Skip to main content

Full text of "Superstitions of the highlands & islands of Scotland"

See other formats




Henrg W. Sage 


..k..l.53Ut U/J.^IM 

Cornell University Library 
GR145.H6 C185 

Superstitions of the highlands & islands 


3 1924 029 909 896 

The original of tliis book is in 
tine Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 



^ntilisheis to the Snibeistts. 


London, Sifitpkin, Hamilton and Co. 

Cambridge, - Macmitian and Bo^es. 

Edinburgh, - Douglas and Foiilis. 


of the 

Highlands ^ Islands of Scotland 

Collected entirely from Oral Sources 


John Gregorson Campbell 

Minister of Tiree 

James MacLehose and Sons 

Publishers to the University 




This volume is the result of many years' labour by 
the late Rev. JOHN Gregorson Campbell, while 
minister of Tiree during the years 1861 — to 1891. 

Much of the material was already collected before 
Mr. J. F. Campbell of Islay published his Popular Tales 
of the West Highlands in i860, and readers of Lord 
Archibald Campbell's volumes on Waifs and Strays of 
Celtic Tradition are already acquainted with the 
valuable work contributed to that series by the Rev. 
J. Gregorson Campbell. 

It is hoped that this volume on the Superstitions of 
the Scottish Highlands, full as it is of racy stories, may 
throw fresh light on an extremely interesting subject. 

The MS. of a corresponding work by the same author 
•on Witchcraft and Second-Sight in the West Highlands, 
is in the editor's hands, and in the event of the present 
"work meeting with the reception which the editor 


thinks it deserves, the volume on Witchcraft will be 
published next year. 

Mrs. Wallace, Hynish, Tiree, the author's sister, has 
kindly read the proofs. 

August, 1900. 


The object aimed at in the following pages is to put 
before the reader a statement, as complete and accurate 
as the writer can attain to, of the Superstitions and 
Antiquities of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. 
In other words, the writer has endeavoured to gather 
full materials relating to that subject, and to arrange 
them in a form that may prove of some scientific value. 
In pursuit of this object, it has been deemed ad- 
visable to derive information solely from oral sources. 
Books have been purposely avoided as authorities, and 
a rule has been laid down, and strictly adhered to, 
not to accept any statement in print regarding a 
Highland belief, unless also found current among the 
people. In the few books there are, having any refer- 
ence to Gaelic lore, the statements have been so 
frequently found at variance with popular beliefs that 
this rule has been a necessity. There are a ' few 


honourable exceptions, but in general what is to be 
found in print on this subject is not trustworthy. 

A want of acquaintance with the Gaelic language 
or with Highland feelings and modes of thought, is 
usually the cause of error. The writers think in 
English, and are not careful to eliminate from their 
statements thoughts derived from English or classical 
literature, or to keep from confusing with Celtic 
beliefs ideas derived from foreign sources, and from 
analogous creeds existing elsewhere. This gives an 
unconscious tinge to their statements, and (what is 
more to be regretted) sometimes makes them fill up 
with extraneous and foreign elements what seems to 
them gaps or blanks in beliefs they but imperfectly 

The writer's information has been derived from 
widely separated districts in the North, West, and 
Central Highlands, and from the Islands. Naturally, 
the bulk of the information was obtained in Tiree, 
where the writer had most opportunity of making 
inquiries, but information from this or any other source 
has not been accepted without comparison with the 
same beliefs in other districts. The writer has not 
been able personally to visit all parts of the High- 
lands, but his informants have spent their lives in 


districts far apart. The reader will fall into a mis- 
take who supposes that the whole information is 
within the belief, or even knowledge, of any one 
individual, or of any one district. 

The beliefs of one district do not differ essentially 
from those of another. In one or two cases several 
versions of a tale are given to show to some extent 
the nature of the variations of popular tradition. 

The writer has thankfully to acknowledge, and he 
cannot but remember with pleasure, the readiness and 
courtesy, and in very many cases the great intelligence 
with which his inquiries have been answered. Some 
of his informants have shown a quickness and reten- 
tiveness of memory which he could not but envy, 
and an appreciation of, and an acquaintance with 
ancient lore that seemed to him to indicate in those 
who were strangers to the world of letters powers of 
mind of a high order. 

The objection to books and print as authorities has 
also been extended to written correspondence. No 
doubt much that is additional and interesting could 
be obtained through these channels, but if the account 
given is to serve any purpose higher than that of 
mere amusement, strict accuracy is of such importance 
that all these sources of possible error have been 


avoided ; they cannot be sifted by cross-examination 
and further inquiry so readily or thoroughly as infor- 
mation obtained by word of mouth. The whole has 
thus passed through the writer's own hands directly 
from what he has found current among the people. 
Care has been taken that no statement be made con- 
veying an idea different in the slightest from what 
has been heard. A popular Gaelic saying can be 
quoted as applicable to the case : " If it be a lie as 
told by me, it was a lie as told to me " {Ma's breug 
bh'uam. e, is breug dhomh e). It is as free to another 
as it has been to the writer, to draw his inferences 
from the statements given, and it is thought no 
genuine tale or oral tradition will be found to contradict 
the statements made in the following pages. 

In the translations given of Gaelic, the object aimed 
at has been to give the corresponding English ex- 
pression, that is, one conveying the same meaning to the 
English reader that the Gaelic expression conveys to 
the Gaelic reader. Accuracy has been looked to on 
this point rather than grace of diction. Where there 
is anything striking in the Gaelic idiom the literal 
meaning is also given. In poetry there is conse- 
quently a baldness, to which the original is a stranger ; 
but this, it may be urged, is a fault inherent in all 




translations, however carefully executed. The trans- 
ference of ideas from one language to another weakens 
the force and beauty of an expression ; what is racy 
and witty, or musical and expressive in one, becomes 
tame and insipid in another. This trite observation 
is made to deprecate unfavourable opinions being 
formed of the genius and force of the Gaelic language 
from the translations given. 



The Fairies 


Names Given to Fairies 3 

The Size of Fairies 9 

Fairy Dwellings 1 1 

Fairy Dresses 14 

The Defects of Fairies 15 

Their Occupations 15 

Seasons of Festivity 16 

Fairy Raids 18 

Circumstances under which Fairies are seen 21 

Fairy Food 21 

Gifts Bestowed by Fairies 22 

The Giving and taking of Loans 24 

Eddy Wind 24 

Rain and Sunshine, Wind and Rain 26 

Fairy Arrows 26 

Cattle 27 

Horses 30 

Dogs 30 

Elfin Cats 32 


Fairy Theft 


Stealing Women and Children 








The Men of Peace 


The Bean Nighe, or Washing Woman 


The Song of the Fairy Woman 


The Glaistig as distinct from the Banshi 


Elfin Queen 


Protection against Fairies 



Tales Illustrative of Fairy Superstition 

Luran 52 

The Cup of the Macleods of Raasa 57 

The Fairies on Finla^s Sandbank 57 

Pennygown Fairies 59 

Ben Lomond Fairies 60 

Callum Clark and his Sore Leg 60 

The Young Man in the Fairy Knoll 61 

Black Wilham the Piper 65 

The Harris Woman and her Baking 66 

Lifted by the Fairies 68 

Fairies Coming to Houses 73 

The Lowland Fairies 76 

Fairies Stealing Women and Children 78 

Ready Wit Repulses the Fairies 85 

Kindness to a Neglected Child 86 

The Bridegroom's Burial _ 86 

The Crowing of the Black Cock 87 

Throwing the Arrow 88 

The Woman Stolen from France 90 





Taking away Cows and Sheep 


The Dwellings of the Fairies 


Fairy Assistance 


The Battle of Trai-Gruinard 


Duine Sith, Man of Peace 


Bean Shith, EUe Woman, or Woman of Peace 


Donald Thrashed by the Fairy Woman 


lona Banshi 


Tiree Banshi 


Macphie's Black Dog 


The Carlin of the Spotted Hill 


Donald, Son of Patrick 


The Wife of Ben-y-Ghloe 


Fairy Women and Deer 


O'Cronicert's Fairy Wife 


The Gruagach Ban 


Deer Killed and conveyed home at Night 


Fairies and Goats 


Fairies and Cows 


Fairy Cows 


The Thirsty Ploughman 


The Fairy Churning 


Milk Spilt by Dairymaids 


Fairy Music 




Fairy Dogs ('Cu Sith') 


What happens to Dogs Chasing Fairies 


Fairies and Horses 


Fairies and the Handmill 


Fairies and Oatmeal 


Fairies and Iron 


Name of the Deity 


Fairy Gifts 


Struck by the Fairy Arrow Spade 



Tutelary Beings 


(I) The Glaistig 


At Glenduroi- 


At Sron-Charmaig 


At Inverawe House 


At Dunstaffnage Castle 


In Tiree 


At Sleat, Skye 


In the Island of Coll 


At DunoUy Castle 


At Mernaig Castle 


In Strathglass 


At Lianachan 


In Glenorchy 


M'Millan of Knap stabbing the Glaistig 


At Craignish 


On Garlics, Morvern 


At Ardnadrochit, Mull 


On Baugh, Tiree 


On Hianish, Tiree 


At Strontian 


In Ulva 


In lona 


In Ross, Mull 


In Corry-na-Henchor 


Mac-Ian Year 


At Erray, Mull 


(II) The Gruagach 


(III) Brownie 




The Old Man of the Barn 




The Urisk, The Blue Men, and 
The Mermaid 


The Urisk 195 

The Blue Men 199 

The Mermaid 201 

The Water-Horse 

Farmers and Water-Horses 204 

Mac-Fir Arois 205 

The Talking Horse at Cru-Loch 207 

Island of Coll 208 

The Nine Children at Sunart 208 

Killing the Raasay Water-Horse 209 

The Water-Horse at Loch Cuaich 210 

The Water-Horse at Tiree 211 

Water-Horse and Women 212 

The Water-Horse at Loch Basibol, Tiree 214 

The Kelpie 215 

The Water-Bull 216 

The King Otter 216 

Biasd na Srogaig 217 

The Big Beast of Lochawe 218 


Superstitions about Animals 


Lamprey — Sea Serpent — Gigelorum — Lavellan — 
Bernicle Goose — Eels — Whale — Herring — 
Flounder— Lobster— Serpents— Rats and Mice- 
Cormorant — Magpie —Beetles — Emmet— Skip 
Jack 219-228 

Miscellaneous Superstitions 

Gisvagun, Eapagun, Upagun 229 

The Right-Hand Turn (Deiseal) 229 

Rising and Dressing 230 

Clothes 231 

Houses and Lands 231 

Baking 232 

Removal Cheese (Mulchag Imrich) 234 

Leg Cake (Bonnach Lurgainn) 234 

Giving Fire out of the House 234 

Thunder 235 

Theft 236 

Salt 236 

Combing the Hair 236 

Bird Nests 237 

Hen's First Egg 237 

Euphemisms 237 

Boat Language 239 

Fresh Meat 240 

Killing those too long alive 240 



The Watch of the Graveyard (Faire Chlaidh) 242 






The Harvest Old Wife (a Chailleach) 


La u Bhrochain mhor (Big Porridge Day) 


Fires on Headlands 






Delivery of Cattle and Horses 






Empty Shells 


Protection against Evil Spirits 


Misnaming a Person 


Gaining Straw (Sop Seile) 


Propitious Times 


Unlucky Actions 




At Outset of a Journey 
Unlucky to look back 



Premonitions and Divination 

Premonitions (Meamna) 258 

Trial (Deuchaiun) 259 

Divination (Fiosachd) 262 

Shoulder-blade Reading (Slinneaneachd) 263 

Palmistry (Dearnadaireachd) 266 
Divination by Tea, or Cup-reading (Leughadh 

Chupaichean) 266 


Dreams and Prophecies 


Dreams (Bruardair) 268 

Prophecies (Fkisneachd) 269 

The Lady of Lawers 274 


Imprecations, Spells, and the Black Art 

Imprecation (Guidhe) 277 

Spells (Geasan no Geasaibh) 281 

The Black Art 285 

The Devil 

Card Playing 292 

Red Book of Appin 292 

Coming for the Dying 295 

Making the Devil your Slave 296 

Coming Misfortune 298 

The Gaick Catastrophe (Mort Ghkthaig) 300 

The Bundle of Fern 303 

The Pig in the Indigo Pot 303 

Among the Tailors 304 

Taghairm, or "Giving his Supper to the Devil" 304 

Glas Ghairm — Power of Opening Locks 311 



In any account of Gaelic superstition and popular 
belief, the first and most prominent place is to be 
assigned to the Fairy or Elfin people, or, as they are 
called both in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, the sith 
people, that is, ' the people of peace,' the ' still folk,' or 
' silently-moving ' people. The antiquity of the belief 
is shown by its being found among all branches of 
the Celtic and Teutonic families, and in countries 
which have not, within historical times, had any com- 
munication with each other. If it be not entirely of 
Celtic origin, there can be no doubt that among the 
Celtic races it acquired an importance and iniluence 
accorded to it nowhere else. Of all the beings, with 
which fear or fancy peopled the supernatural, the 
Fairies were the most intimately associated with men's 
daily life. In the present day, when popular poetical 

' The words Elfin and Fairy are, in these pages, used indifferently as 
equivalents of the Gaelic names, sith (or shi) people, etc. 



ideas are extinguished in the universal call for " facts 
and by " cold material laws," it is hard to understand 
how firm a hold a belief like this had upon men in 
a more primitive state of society, and how unwillingly 
it is surrendered. 

Throughout the greater part of the Highlands of 
Scotland the Fairies have become things of the past. 
A common belief is that they existed once, though 
they are not now seen. There are others to whom 
the elves have still a real existence, and who are 
careful to take precautions against them. The changes, 
which the Highlands are undergoing, have made the 
traces of the belief fainter in some districts than in 
others, and in some there remains but a confused 
jumbling of all the superstitions. It would be difficult 
to find a person who knows the whole Fairy creed, 
but the tales of one district are never contradictory 
of those of another. They are rather to be taken as 
supplemental of each other, and it is by comparison 
and such supplementing that the following statement has 
been drawn out. It is thought that it will not be found 
at variance with any genuine Highland Fairy Tale. 

The Fairies, according to the Scoto-Celtic belief, are 
a race of beings, the counterparts of mankind in person, 
occupations, and pleasures, but unsubstantial and un- 
real, ordinarily invisible, noiseless in their motions, 
and having their dwellings underground, in hills and 
green mounds of rock or earth. They are addicted to 


visiting the haunts of men, sometimes to give assist- 
ance, but more frequently to take away the benefit 
of their goods and labours, and sometimes even their 
persons. They may be present in any company, 
though mortals do not see them. Their interference 
is never productive of good in the end, and may 
prove destructive. Men cannot therefore be sufficiently 
on their guard against them. 

The names by which these dwellers underground 
are known are mostly derivative from the word sith 
(pronounced shee). As a substantive (in which sense 
it is ordinarily used) sith means ' peace,' and, as an 
adjective, is applied solely to objects of the super- 
natural world, particularly to the Fairies and whatever 
belongs to them. Sound is a natural adjunct of the 
motions of men, and its entire absence is unearthly, 
unnatural, not human. The name sith without doubt 
refers to the ' peace ' or silence of Fairy motion, as 
contrasted with the stir and noise accompanying the 
movements and actions of men. The German ' still 
folk ' is a name of corresponding import. The Fairies 
come and go with noiseless steps, and their thefts or 
abductions are done silently and unawares to men. 
The wayfarer resting beside a stream, on raising his 
eyes, sees the Fairy woman, unheard in her approach, 
standing on the opposite bank. Men know the Fairies 


have visited their houses only by the mysterious dis- 
appearance of the substance of their goods, or the 
sudden and unaccountable death of any of the inmates 
or of the cattle. Sometimes the elves are seen entering 
the house, gliding silently round the room, and going 
out again as noiselessly as they entered. When driven 
away they do not go off with tramp and noise, and 
sounds of walking such as men make, or melt into 
thin air, as spirits do, but fly away noiselessly like 
birds or hunted deer. They seem to glide or float 
along rather than to walk. Hence the name sUhche 
and its synonyms are often applied contemptuously 
to a person who sneaks about or makes his approach 
without warning. Sometimes indeed the elves make 
a rustling noise like that of a gust of wind, or a silk 
gown, or a sword drawn sharply through the air, and 
their coming and going has been even indicated by 
frightful and unearthly shrieks, a pattering as of a 
flock of sheep, or the louder trampling of a troop of 
horses. Generally, however, their presence is indi- 
cated at most by the cloud of dust raised by the 
eddy wind, or by some other curious natural pheno- 
menon, by the illumination of their dwellings, the 
sound of their musical instruments, songs, or speech. 

For the same reason slth is applied not merely to 
what is Fairy, but to wha,tever is Fairy-like, unearthly, 
not of this world. Of this laxer use of the term the 
following may be given as illustrations : 


Breac shith, ' Elfin pox,' hives, are spots that appear 
on the skin in certain diseases, as hooping-cough, and 
indicate a highly malignant stage of the malady. They 
are not ascribed to the Fairies, but are called skk, 
because they appear and again disappear as it were 
'silently,' without obvious cause, and more mysteriously 
than other symptoms. Cows, said to have been found 
on the shores of Loscantire in Harris, Scorrybrec in 
Skye, and on the Island of Bernera, were called cro sith, 
' fairy cows,' simply because they were of no mortal 
breed, but of a kind believed to live under the sea on 
meillich, seaweed. Animals in the shape of cats, but in 
reality witches or demons, were called cait shlth, ' Elfin 
cats,' and the Water Horse, which has no connection 
whatever with the elves, is sometimes called each sith, un- 
earthly horse. The cuckoo is an eun sith, a ' Fairy bird,' 
because, as is said, its winter dwelling is underground. 

A banner in the possession of the family of Macleod, 
of Macleod of Skye, is called 'Macleod's Fairy Banner' 
{Bratach shlth MhicLeoid), on account of the supernatural 
powers ascribed to it. When unfurled, victory in war 
{buaidh chogaidh) attends it, and it relieves its followers 
from imminent danger.^ Every pregnant woman who 
sees it is taken in premature labour (a misfortune which 
happened, it is said, to the English wife of a former 

* These virtues it is to have only thrice, and it has been already unfiirled 
twice. Many of the common people wanted it brought out at the time of 
the potato failure. 


chief in consequence of her irrepressible curiosity to see 
the banner), and every cow casts her calf {cha bhi bean 
no bo nach tilg a laogh). Others, however, say the 
name is owing to the magic banner having been got 
from an Elfin sweetheart. 

A light, seen among the Hebrides, a sort of St. 
Elmo's light or Will-of-the-wisp, is called teine sith, 
'Fairy light,' though no one ever blamed the Fairies as 
the cause of it. In a semi-satirical song, of much 
merit for its spirit and ease of diction, composed in 
Tiree to the owner of a crazy skiff that had gone to the 
Ross of Mull for peats and staid too long, the bard, in 
a spirited description of the owner's adventures and 
seamanship, says : — 

" Onward past Greenock, 

Like the deer of the cold high hills, 
Breasting the rugged ground 
With the hunter in pursuit ; 
She sailed with Fairy motion^ 
Bounding smoothly in her pride, 
Cleaving the green waves, 

And passing to windward of the rest." ^ 

1 Fairy motion, i.e. not rising and falling on the waves, but gliding 
smoothly along. 

- " Seachad air Grianaig, 

Mar fhiadh nam beann fuara, 
Direadh ri uchd garbhlaich, 
'S an sealgair ga ruagadh, 
Ise is siubhal, sith aice, 
Slnteagan uallach, 
Sgoltadh nan tonn uaine 
'S a fuaradh air chach." 

Long aig Galium MacShlomain. 


This latitude in the use of the word has led soiiie 
writers on the subject to confound with the Fairies 
beings having as little connection with them as with 
mankind. A similar laxness occurs in the use of the 
English word Fairy. It is made to include kelpies, 
mermaids, and other supernatural beings, having no 
connection with the true Fairy, or Elfin race. 

The following are the names by which the ' Folk ' 
are known in Gaelic. It is observable that every one 
of the names, when applied to mortals, is contemptuous 
and disparaging. 

Sithche (pronounced sheeche) is the generic and 
commonest term. It is a noun of common gender, 
and its plural is sithchean (sheechun). In Graham's 
Highlands of Perthshire, a work more than once quoted 
by Sir Walter Scott, but unreliable as an authority, this 
word is written shi'ich. 

Sireach, plur. sirich, also sibhrich, is a provincial term ; 
an siriche du, ' the black elf,' i.e. the veriest elf 

Sithbheire (pronounced sheevere), a masculine noun, 
is mostly applied to changelings, or the elf substituted 
for children and animals taken by the Fairies. Applied 
to men it is very contemptuous. 

Siochaire is still more so. Few expressions of scorn are 
more commonly applied to men than siochaire grannda, 
" ugly slink." 

Duine sith (plur. daoine slth), ' a man of peace, a 
noiselessly moving person, a fairy, an elf ' ; fem. Bean 


shlth (gen. mna slth, plur. mnathan sith, gen. plur. with 
the article nam ban skltk), ' a woman of peace, an Ella 
woman,' are names that include the whole Fairy race. 
Bean shith has become naturalized in English under the 
form Banshi. The term was introduced from Ireland, 
but there appears no reason to suppose the Irish belief 
different from that of the Scottish Highlands. Any 
seeming difference has arisen since the introduction of 
the Banshi to the literary world, and from the too free 
exercise of imagination by book-writers on an im- 
perfectly understood tradition. 

The leannan slth, ' fairy sweetheart, familiar spirit,' 
might be of either sex. The use of this word by the 
translators of the Bible into Gaelic is made a great 
handle of by the common people, to prove from 
Scripture that Fairies actually exist. The Hebrew 
word so translated is rendered ' pythons ' by the 
Vulgate, and ' consulters of the spirits of the dead ' 
by modern scholars. Those said to have familiar 
spirits were probably a class of magicians, who pre- 
tended to be media of communication with the spirit 
world, their 'familiar' making himself known by sounds 
muttered from the ground through the instrumentality, 
as the Hebrew name denotes, of a skin bottle. 

Brugkadair, ' a person from a brugh, or fairy dwell- 
ing,' applied to men, means one who does a stupid 
or senseless action. 

Other names are sluagh, ' folk, a multitude ' ; sluagh 


eutrom, ' light folk ' ; and daoine beaga, ' little men,' 
from the number and small size ascribed to the elves. 

Daoine Cbire, ' honest folk,' had its origin in a desire 
to give no unnecessary offence. The ' folk ' might be 
listening, and were pleased when people spoke well of 
them, and angry when spoken of slightingly. In this 
respect they are very jealous. A wise man will not 
unnecessarily expose himself to their attacks, for, 
' Better is a hen's amity than its enmity' {S'fkearr sith 
ciree na h-ahnhreif). The same feeling made the Irish 
Celt call them daoine niatha, ' good people,' and the 
lowland Scot ' gude neighbours.' 


The difference in size ascribed to the race, though 
one of the most remarkable features in the superstition, 
and lying on its surface, has been taken little notice 
of by writers. At one time the elves are small enough 
to creep through key-holes, and a single potato is as 
much as one of them can carry ; at another they re- 
semble mankind, with whom they form alliances, and 
to whom they hire themselves as servants ; while some 
are even said to be above the size of mortals, gigantic 
hags, in whose lap mortal women are mere infants. 
In the Highlands the names sithche and daoine sith 
are given to all these different . sizes alike, little men, 
elfin youth, elfin dame, and elfin hag, all of whom 
are not mythical beings of different classes or kinds. 


but one and the same race, having the same 
characteristics and dress, living on the same food, 
staying in the same dwellings, associated in the same 
actions, and kept away by the same means. The 
easiest solution of the anomaly is that the fairies had 
the power of making themselves large or small at 
' pleasure. There is no popular tale, however, which 
represents them as exercising such a power, nor is it 
conformable to the rest of their characteristics that it 
should be ascribed to them. The true belief is 
that the Fairies are a small race, the men ' about four 
feet or so ' in height, and the women in many cases 
not taller than a little girl {cnapach caileig). Being 
called 'little,' the exaggeration, which popular imagina- 
tion loves, has diminished them till they appear as elves 
of different kinds. There is hardly a limit to the 
popular exaggeration of personal peculiarities. Og, 
King of Bashan, was a big man, and the Rabbis 
made his head tower to the regions of perpetual 
snow, while his feet were parched in the deserts of 
Arabia. Finmac Coul was reputed strong, at least 
he thrashed the devil, and made him howl. A weaver 
in Perthshire, known as ' the weaver with the nose ' 
{figkeadair na erdine), had a big nose, at least he carried 
his loom in it. Similarly the ' little men ' came down 
to the ' size of half an ell,' and even the height of 
a quart bottle. 

The same peculiarity exists in the Teutonic belief. 


At times the elf is a dwarfish being that enters 
through key-holes and window-slits; at other times a 
great tall man. In different localities the Fairies are 
known as Alfs, Huldra-Folk, Duergar, Trolls, Hill 
Folk, Little Folk, Still Folk, Pixies, etc. A differ- 
ence of size, as well as of name, has led to these 
being described as separate beings, but they have 
all so much in common with the Celtic Fairies that 
we must conclude they were originally the same. 


The Gaelic, as might be expected, abounds in words 
denoting the diversified features of the scenery in a 
mountainous country. To this the English language 
itself bears witness, having adopted so many Gaelic 
words of the kind, as strath, glen, corrie, ben, knock, 
dun, etc. From this copiousness it arises that the 
round green eminences, which were said to be the 
residences of the Fairies, are known in Gaelic by 
several names which have no synonym in English. 

Sitkein (pron. shi-en) is the name of any place in 
which the Fairies take up their residence. It is known 
from the surrounding scenery by the peculiarly green 
appearance and rounded form. Sometimes in these 
respects it is very striking, being of so nearly conical 
a form, and covered with such rich verdure, that 
a second look is required to satisfy the observers 
it is not artificial. Its external appearance has 


led to its being also known by various other 

Tolnian is a small green knoll, or hummock, of 
earth ; bac, a bank of sand or earth ; cnoc, knock, 
Scot. ' a knowe,' and its diminutive cnocan, a little 
knowe ; dim, a rocky mound or heap, such, for in- 
stance, as the Castle rock of Edinburgh or Dumbarton, 
though often neither so steep nor so large ; bthan, a 
green elevation in wet ground ; and itigh, a provincial 
term of much the same import as tolman. Even 
lofty hills have been represented as tenanted by 
Fairies, and the highest point of a hill, having the 
rounded form, characteristic of Fairy dwellings is called 
its shY-en {sithein na beinne). Rocks may be tenanted 
by the elves, but not caves. The dwellings of the 
race are below the outside or superficies of the earth, 
and tales representing the contrary may be looked 
upon with suspicion as modern. 

There is one genuine popular story in which the 
Fairy dwelling is in the middle of a green plain, 
without a:ny elevation to mark its site beyond a 
horse-skull, the eye-sockets of which were used as 
the Fairy chimney. 

These dwellings were tenanted sometimes by a 
single family only, more frequently by a whole com- 
munity. The elves were said to change their residences 
as men do, and, when they saw proper themselves, to 
remove to distant parts of the country and more 


desirable haunts. To them, on their arrival in their 
new home, are ascribed the words : 

" Though good the haven we have left, 
Better be the haven we have found." ^ 

The Fairy hillock might be passed by the strangers 
without suspicion of its being tenanted, and cattle 
were pastured on it unmolested by the " good people." 
There is, however, a common story in the Western 
Isles that a person was tethering his horse or cow 
for the night on a green tobnan when a head appeared 
out of the ground, and told him to tether the beast 
somewhere else, as he let rain into " their " house, 
and had nearly driven the tether-pin into the ear of 
one of the inmates. Another, who was in the habit 
of pouring out dirty water at the door, was told by 
the Fairies to pour it elsewhere, as he was spoiling 
their furniture. He shifted the door to the back of 
the house, and prospered ever after. The Fairies 
were very grateful to any one who kept the shi-en 
clean, and swept away cow or horse-droppings falling 
on it. Finding a farmer careful of the roof of their 
dwelling, keeping it clean, and not breaking the 
sward with tether-pin or spade, they showed their 
thankfulness by driving his horses and cattle to the 
sheltered side of the mound when the night proved 
stormy. Many believe the Fairies themselves swept 

^ " Ged is math an cala dh' fhag sinn, 
Gum bu fearr an cala fhuair sinn." 


the hillock every night, so that in the morning its 
surface was spotless. 

Brugh (bru) denotes the Fairy dwelling viewed as it 
were from the inside — the interiors — but is often used 
interchangeably with sithein. It is probably the same 
word as burgh, borough, or bro', and its reference is 
to the nufnber of inmates in the Fairy dwelling.^ 


The Fairies, both Celtic and Teutonic, are dressed 
in green. In Skye, however, though Fairy women, as 
elsewhere, are always dressed in that colour, the men 
wear clothes of any colour like their human neighbours. 
They are frequently called daoine beaga ruadh, " little 
red men," from their clothes having the appearance of 
being dyed with the lichen called crotal, a common 
colour of men's clothes, in the North Hebrides. 
The coats of Fairy women are shaggy, or ruffled 
{caiteineack), and their caps curiously fitted or 
wrinkled. The men are said, but not commonly, to 
have blue bonnets, and in the song to the murdered 
Elfin lover, the Elf is said to have a hat bearing "' a 
smell of honied apples." This is perhaps the only 
Highland instance of a hat, which is a prominent object 

' Few villages in the Highlands of Scotland are without a sh'i-en in their 
neighbourhood, and often a number are found close to each other. 
Strontian, well known to geologists from the mineral which bears its 
.name, is Srhi an t-sithein, " the nose of the Fairy hillock." 


in the Teutonic superstition, being ascribed to the 


Generally some personal defect is ascribed to them, 
by which they become known to be of no mortal race. 
In Mull and the neighbourhood they are said to have 
only one nostril, the other being imperforate (an leth 
choinnlein aca druid-te). The Elfin smith who made 
Finmac Coul's sword, " the son of Lun that never 
asked a second stroke " (^Mac an Luin, nach d'fhdg 
riamh fuigheal bhemit), had but one gloomy eye in his 
forehead. The Bean shiih was detected by her extra- 
ordinary voracity (a cow at a meal), a frightful front 
tooth, the entire want of a nostril, a web foot, praeter- 
naturally long breasts, etc. She is also said to be 
unable to suckle her own children, and hence the Fairy 
desire to steal nursing women. 

The Fairies, as has been already said, are coun- 
terparts of mankind. There are children and old 
people among them ; they practise all kinds of trades 
and handicrafts ; they possess cattle, dogs, arms ; they 
require food, clothing, sleep ; they are liable to disease, 
and can be killed. So entire is the resemblance that 
they have even been betrayed into intoxication. People 
entering their brughs, have found the inmates engaged 


in similar occupations to mankind, the women spinning, 
weaving, grinding meal, baking, cooking, churning, etc., 
and the men sleeping, dancing, and making merry, or 
sitting round a fire in the middle of the floor (as a 
Perthshire informant described it) "like tinkers." Some- 
times the inmates were absent on foraging expeditions 
or pleasure excursions. The women sing at their work, 
a common practice in former times with Highland 
women, and use distaff, spindle, handmills, and such 
like primitive implements. The men have smithies, in 
which they make the Fairy arrows and other weapons. 
Some Fairy families or communities are poorer than 
others, and borrow meal and other articles of domestic 
use from each other and from their neighbours of 


There are stated seasons of festivity which are 
observed with much splendour in the larger dwellings. 
The brugh is illumined, the tables glitter with gold 
and silver vessels, and the door is thrown open to all 
comers. Any of the human race entering on these 
occasions are hospitably and heartily welcomed ; food 
and drink are offered them, and their health is pledged. 
Everything in the dwelling seems magnificent beyond 
description, and mortals are so enraptured they forget 
everything but the enjoyment of the moment. Joining 
in the festivities, they lose all thought as to the passage 


of time. The food is the most sumptuous, the 
clothing the most gorgeous ever seen, the music the 
sweetest ever heard, the dance the sprighthest ever 
trod. The whole dwelling is lustrous with magic 

All this magnificence, however, and enjoyment are 
nothing but semblance and illusion of the senses. 
Mankind, with all their cares, and toils, and sorrows, 
have an infinitely more desirable lot, and the man is 
greatly to be pitied whom the Elves get power over, so 
that he exchanges his human lot and labour for their 
society or pleasures. Wise people recommend that, 
in the circumstances, a man should not utter a word 
till he comes out again, nor, on any account, taste Fairy 
food or drink. If he abstains he is very likely be- 
fore long dismissed, but if he indulges he straightway 
loses the will and the power ever to return to the 
society of men. He becomes insensible to the passage 
of time, and may stay, without knowing it, for years, 
and even ages, in the brugh. Many, who thus forgot 
themselves, are among the Fairies to this day. Should 
they ever again return to the open air, and their en- 
chantment be broken, the Fairy grandeur and pleasure 
prove an empty show, worthless, and fraught with 
danger. The food becomes disgusting refuse, and the 
pleasures a shocking waste of time. 

The Elves are great adepts in music and dancing, 
and a great part of their time seems to be spent in the 


practice of these accomplishments. The changeling has 
often been detected by his fondness for them. Though 
in appearance an ill-conditioned and helpless brat, he 
has been known, when he thought himself unobserved, 
to play the pipes with surpassing skill, and dance with 
superhuman activity. Elfin music is more melodious 
than human skill and instruments can produce, and 
there are many songs and tunes which are said to have 
been originally learned from the Fairies. The only 
musical instrument of the Elves is the bagpipes, and 
some of the most celebrated pipers in Scotland are said 
to have learned their music from them. 


The Gaelic belief recognizes no Fairyland or realm 
different from the earth's surface on which men live 
and move. The dwellings are underground, but it 
is on the natural face of the earth the Fairies find 
their sustenance, pasture their cattle, and on which 
they forage and roam. 

The seasons on which their festivities are held are 
the last night of every quarter (Ji-uile latha ceann 
raidhe), particularly the nights before Beltane, the first 
of summer, and Hallowmas, the first of winter. On 
these nights, on Fridays, and on the last night of 
the year, they are given to leaving home, and taking 
away whomsoever of the human race they find helpless, 
or unguarded or unwary. They may be encountered 


any time, but on these stated occasions men are to 
be particularly on their guard against them. 

On Fridays they obtrusively enter houses, and have 
even the impudence, it is said, to lift the lid off the 
pot to see what the family have on the fire for 
dinner. Any Fairy story, told on this day, should be 
prefixed by saying, ' a blessing attend their departing 
and travelling ! this day is Friday and they will not 
hear us ' {Beannachd nan siubhal 'j nan isneachd ! 'se 
'n diugh Di-haoine 's cha chluinn tad sinn\ This 
prevents Fairy ill-will coming upon the narrator for 
anything he may chance to say. No one should call 
the day by its proper name of Friday [Di-haoine), 
but ' the day of yonder town ' {latha bhaW ud thaW). 
The Fairies do not like to hear the day mentioned, 
and if anyone is so unlucky as to use the proper name, 
their wrath is directed elsewhere by the bystander 
adding ' on the cattle of yonder town ' {air cro a bhaiV 
ud tkall), or ' on the farm of So-and-so,' mentioning 
anyone he may have a dislike to. The fear of Fairy 
wrath also prevented the sharpening of knives on this 

They are said to come always from the west. They 
are admitted into houses, however well guarded other- 
wise, by the little hand-made cake, the last of the 
baking (bonnach beag boise), called the Fallaid bannock, 
unless there has been a hole put through it with the 
finger, or a piece is broken off it, or a live coal is 


put on the top of it ; ^ by the water in which men's 
feet have been washed ; by the fire, unless it be 
properly ' raked ' {snidladh), i.e. covered up to keep it 
alive for the night ; or by the band of the spinning 
wheel, if left stretched on the wheel. 

The reason assigned for taking water into the house 
at night was that the Fairies would suck the sleeper's 
blood if they found no water in to quench their thirst. 
The water in which feet were washed, unless thrown 
out, or a burning peat were put in it, let them in, 
and was used by them to plash about in {gan loireadh 
fhtin ann) all night. Unless the band was taken off 
the spinning wheel, particularly on the Saturday even- 
ings, they came after the inmates of the house had 
retired to rest and used the wheel. Sounds of busy 
work were heard, but in the morning no work was 
found done, and possibly the wheel was disarranged.^ 

On the last night of the year they are kept out 
by decorating the house with holly ; and the last 
handful of corn reaped should be dressed up as a 
Harvest Maiden {Maigkdean Bkuan), and hung up in 
the farmer's house to aid in keeping them out till 
next harvest. 

^ Bonnach beag baise, gun ihloigh gun lihearn, Eirich 's big sinne " 
stigh, i.e. Little cake, without gap or fissure, rise and let us in, is the 
Elfin call. 

2 In the north of Ireland the band was taken off the spinning wheel to 
prevent the Fairies spoiling the linen. 



There seems to be no definite rule as to the circum- 
stances under which the Fairies are to be seen. A 
person whose eye has been touched with Fairy water 
earn see them whenever they are present ; the seer, 
possessed of second sight, often saw them when others 
did not ; and on nights on which the shi-en is open the 
chance passer-by sees them rejoicing in their under- 
ground dwellings. A favourite time for their encounters 
with men seems to be the dusk and wild stormj' 
nights of mist and driving rain, when the streams 
are swollen and ' the roar of the torrent is heard on 
the hill.' They are also apt to appear when spoken 
of and when a desire is expressed for their assistance ; 
when proper precautions are omitted and those whose 
weakness and helplessness call for watchfulness and 
care, are neglected ; when their power is contemned 
and when a sordid and churlish spirit is entertained. 
Often, without fault or effort, in places the most 
unexpected, mortals have been startled by their ap- 
pearance, cries, or music. 


Fairy food consists principally of things intended for 
human food, of which the Elves take the toradh, i.e. 
the substance, fruit, or benefit, leaving the semblance or 
appearance to men themselves. In this manner they 


take cows, sheep, goats, meal, sowens, the produce of 
the land, etc. Cattle falling over rocks are particularly 
liable to being taken by them, and milk spilt in 
coming from the dairy is theirs by right. They have, 
of food peculiar to themselves and not acquired from 
men, the root of silver weed [brisgein), the stalks of 
heather {cuiseagan an fhraoich), the milk of the red 
deer hinds and of goats, weeds gathered in the fields, 
and barleymeal. The brisgein is a root plentifully 
turned up by the plough in spring, and ranked in olden 
times as the ' seventh bread.' Its inferior quality 
and its being found underground, are probably the 
cause of its being assigned to the Fairies. It is a 
question whether the stalks of heather are the tops or 
the stems of the plant. Neither contain much sap or 
nourishment. The Banshi Fairy, or Elle woman, has 
been seen by hunters milking the hinds, just as women 
milk cows. 

Those who partake of Fairy food are as hungry after 
their repast as before it. In appearance it is most 
sumptuous and inviting, but on grace being said turns 
out to be horse-dung. Some, in their haste to partake 
of the gorgeous viands, were only disenchanted when 
' returning thanks.' 


The Fairies can bestow almost any gift upon their 
favourites — great skill in music and in work of all kinds 



— give them cows and even children stolen for the 
purpose from others, leave them good fortune, keep 
cattle from wandering into their crops at night, assist 
them in spring and harvest work, etc. Sometimes 
their marvellous skill is communicated to mortals, 
sometimes they come in person to assist. If a smith, 
wright, or other tradesman catches them working with 
the tools of his trade (a thing they are addicted to 
doing) he can compel them to bestow on him the 
Ceaird Chomuinn, or association craft, that is to come 
to his assistance whenever he wants them. Work left 
near their hillocks over night has been found finished 
in the morning, and they have been forced by men, 
entering their dwellings for the purpose, to tell the 
cure for diseases defying human skill. 

In every instance, however, the benefit of the gift 
goes ultimately to the Fairies themselves, or (as it is 
put in the Gaelic expression) ' the fruit of it goes into 
their own bodies ' (Theid an toradh na?i cuirp fhein). 
Their gifts have evil influence connected with them, and, 
however inviting at first, are productive of bad luck in 
the end. No wise man will desire either their company 
or their kindness. When they come to a house to 
assist at any work, the sooner they are got rid of the 
better. If they are hired as servants their wages at first 
appear trifling, but will ultimately ruin their employer, 
It is unfortunate even to encounter any of the race, but 
to consort with them is disastrous in the extreme. 



'The giving and taking of loans,' according to the 
proverb, ' always prevailed in the world ' (Bka toirt is 
gabhail an iasad dol riamh feadh an t-saogkail), and the 
custom is one to which the ' good neighbours ' are no 

They are universally represented as borrowing meal, 
from each other and from men. In the latter case 
when they returned a loan, as they always honestly 
did, the return was in barleyineal, two measures for one 
of oatmeal ; and this, on being kept in a place by itself, 
proved inexhaustible, provided the bottom of the vessel 
in which it was stored was never made to appear, no 
question was asked, and no blessing was pronounced 
over it. It would then neither vanish nor become 
horse-dung ! 

When a loan is returned to them, they accept only 
the fair equivalent of what they have lent, neither less 
nor more. If more is offered they take offence, and 
never give an opportunity for the same insult again. 

We hear also of their borrowing a kettle or cauldron, 
and, under the power of a rhyme uttered by the lender 
at the time of giving it, sending it back before morning. 


When ' the folk ' leave home in companies, they 
travel in eddies of wind. In this climate these eddies 


are among the most curious of natural phenomena. 
On calm summer days they go past, whirling about 
straws and dust, and as not another breath of air is 
moving at the time their cause is sufficiently puzzling. 
In Gaelic the eddy is known as ' the people's puff of 
wind ' {piteag sluaigK), and its motion ' travelling on 
tall grass stems ' {falbh air chuiseagan trebrach). By 
throwing one's left (or toisgeul) shoe at it, the Fairies 
are made to drop whatever they may be taking away — 
men, women, children, or animals. The same result is 
attained by throwing one's bonnet, saying, ' this is 
yours, that's mine ' {Is leatsa so, is leamsa sin), or a 
naked knife, or earth from a mole-hill. 

In these eddies, people going on a journey at night 
have been 'lifted,' and spent the night careering through 
the skies. On returning to the earth, though they 
came to the house last left, they were too stupefied to 
recognize either the house or its inmates. Others, 
through Fairy despite, have wandered about all night 
on foot, failing to reach their intended destination 
though quite near it, and perhaps in the morning find- 
ing themselves on the top of a distant hill, or in some 
inaccessible place to which they could never have made 
their way alone. Even in daylight some were carried 
in the Elfin eddy from one island to another, in great 
terror lest they should fall into the sea. 



When there is rain with sunshine, the ' little people,' 

according to a popular rhyme, are at their meat, 

" Rain and sun, 
Little people at their meat." 

When wind and rain come from opposite directions 

(which may for an instant be possible in a sudden shift 

of wind), by throwing some horse-dung against the 

wind, the Fairies are brought down in a shower ! 


Natural objects of a curious appearance, or bearing a 
fanciful resemblance to articles used by men, are also 
associated with the Fairies. The reedmace plant is 
called ' the distaff of the Fairy women ' {cuigeal nam 
ban skitk), the foxglove the ' thimble of the Fairy old 
women ' {iniaran nan cailleacha sztk), though more 
commonly ' the thimble of dead old women ' {m. nan 
cailleacha marbh). A substance, found on the shores of 
the Hebrides, like a stone, red {ruadli), and half dark 
{lith dhorcha^, holed, is called ' Elf's blood ' {^fuil 

The Fairy arrow {Saigkead shitK) owes its name to 
a similar fancy. It is known also as ' Fairy flint' {spor 
shhk), and consists of a triangular piece of flint, bear- 

1 Similarly, in Dorsetshire fossil belemnites are called colepexies' fingers, 
and in Northumberland a fungous excrescence, growing about the roots of 
old trees, is called Fairy butter. So in Ireland, the round towers are 
ascribed to them. 


ing the appearance of an arrow head. It probably 
originally formed part of the rude armoury of the 
savages of the stone period. Popular imagination, 
struck by its curious form, and ignorant of its origin, 
ascribed it to the Fairies. It was said to be frequently 
shot at the hunter, to whom the Elves have a special 
aversion, because he kills the hinds, on the milk of 
which they live. They could not throw it themselves, 
but compelled some mortal (duine saoghailte) who was 
being carried about in their company to throw it for 
them. If the person aimed at was a friend, the 
thrower managed to miss his aim, and the Fairy arrow 
proved innocuous. It was found lying beside the 
object of Fairy wrath, and was kept as a valuable pre- 
servation in future against similar dangers, and for 
rubbing to wounds {suathadh ri creuchdun). The man 
or beast struck by it became paralyzed, and to all 
appearance died shortly after. In reality they were 
taken away by the elves, and only their appearance 
remained. Its point being blunt was an indication 
that it had done harm. 

The Fairy spade {caibe sitli) is a smooth, slippery, 
black stone, in shape 'like the sole of a shoe.' It 
was put in water, given to sick people and cattle. 


Everywhere, in the Highlands, the red-deer are 
associated with the Fairies, and in some districts, as 


Lochaber and Mull, are said to be their only cattle. 
This association is sufficiently accounted for by the 
Fairy-like appearance and habits of the deer. In 
its native haunts, in remote and misty corries, where 
solitude has her most undisturbed abode, its beauty 
and grace of form, combined with its dislike to the 
presence of man, and even of the animals man has 
tamed, amply entitle it to the name of sith. Timid 
and easily startled by every appearance and noise, 
it is said to be unmoved by the presence of the 
Fairies. Popular belief also says that no deer is 
found dead with age, and that its horns, which it 
sheds every year, are not found, because hid by the 
Fairies. In their transformations it was peculiar for 
the Fairy women to assume the shape of the red-deer, 
and in that guise they were often encountered by the 
hunter. The elves have a particular dislike to those who 
kill the hinds, and, on finding them in lonely places, 
delight in throwing elf-bolts at them. When a dead 
deer is carried home at night the Fairies lay their 
weight on the bearer's back, till he feels as if he 
had a house for a burden. On a penknife, however, 
being stuck in the deer it becomes very light. There 
are occasional allusions to the Fairy women having 
herds of deer. The Carlin Wife of the Spotted Hill 
{Cailleach Beinne Bhric horb), who, according to a 
popular rhyme, was ' large and broad and tall,' had 
a herd which she would not allow to descend to the 

CA TTLE. 2g 

beach, and which ' loved the water-cresses by the 
fountain high in the hills better than the black weeds 
of the shore.' The old women of Ben-y-Ghloe, in 
Perthshire, and of Clibrich, in Sutherlandshire,^ seem 
to have been sith women of the same sort. ' I 
never,' said an old man (he was upwards of eighty 
years of age) in the Island of Mull, questioned some 
years ago on the subject, ' heard of the Fairies having 
cows, but I always heard that deer were their 

In other parts of the Highlands, as in Skye, though 
the Fairies are said to keep company with the deer, 
they have cows like those of men. When one of 
them appears among a herd of cattle the whole fold 
of them grows frantic, and follows lowing wildly. The 
strange animal disappears by entering a rock or knoll, 
and the others, unless intercepted, follow and are 
never more seen. The Fairy cow is dun (odhar) 
and ' hummel,' or hornless. In Skye, however, Fairy 
cattle are said to be speckled and red {crodh breac 
ruadJi), and to be able to cross the sea. It is not 
on every place that they graze. There were not 
above ten such spots in all Skye. The field of Annat 
{achadh na h-annaid), in the Braes of Portree, is 
one. When the cattle came home at night from 
pasture, the following were the words used by the 
Fairy woman, standing on Dun Gerra-sheddar {Dim 

^ Campbell's West Highland Tales, ii. 46. 


Gkearra-seadar), near Portree, as she counted her 
charge : 

" Crooked one, dun one. 
Little wing grizzled, 
Black cow, white cow, 
Little bull black-head, 
My milch kine have come home, 
O dear ! that the herdsman would come ! " 


In the Highland creed the Fairies but rarely have 
horses. In Perthshire they have been seen on a 
market day riding about on white horses ; in Tiree 
two Fairy ladies were met riding on what seemed to 
be horses, but in reality were ragweeds ; and in Skye 
the elves have galloped the farm horses at full speed 
and in dangerous places, sitting with their faces to 
the tails. 

When horses neigh at night it is because they are 
ridden by the Fairies, and pressed too hard. The 
neigh is one of distress, and if the hearer exclaims 
aloud, " Your saddle and pillion be upon you " (^Do 
shrathair 's do phillein ori) the Fairies tumble to the 


The Fairy dog {cu sith) is as large as a two-year- 
old stirk, a dark green colour, with ears of deep 
green. It is of a lighter colour towards the feet. 

DOGS. 31 

In some cases it has a long tail rolled up in a coil 
on its back, but others have the tail flat and plaited 
like the straw rug of a pack-saddle. Bran, the famous 
dog that Fin mac Coul had, was of Elfin breed, and 
from the description given of it by popular tradition, 
decidedly parti-coloured : 

" Bran had yellow feet, 

Its two sides black and belly white ; 
Green was the back of the hunting hound, 
Its two pointed ears blood-red." 

Bran had a venomous shoe {Brbg nifnke), with which 
it killed whatever living creature it struck, and when 
at full speed, and ' like its father ' {dol ri athatr), 
was seen as three dogs, intercepting the deer at three 

The Fairy hound was kept tied as a watch dog in 
the brugh, but at times accompanied the women on 
their expeditions or roamed about alone, making its 
lairs in clefts of the rocks. Its motion was silent and 
gliding, and its bark a rude clamour (blaodk). It went 
in a straight line, and its bay has been last heard, by 
those who listened for it, far out at sea. Its immense 
footmarks, as large as the spread of the human hand, 
have been found next day traced in the mud, in the 
snow, or on the sands. Others say it makes a noise 
like a horse galloping, and its bay is like that of 
another dog, only louder. There is a considerable 
interval between each bark, and at the third (it only 


barks thrice) the terror-struck hearer is overtaken and 
destroyed, unless he has by that time reached a place 
of safety. 

Ordinary dogs have a mortal aversion to the Fairies, 
and give chase whenever the elves are sighted. On 
coming back, the hair is found to be scraped off their 
bodies, all except the ears, and they die soon after. 

Elfin cats {cait skltk) are explained to be of a wild, 
not a domesticated, breed, to be as large as dogs, of a 
black colour, with a white spot on the breast, and to 
have arched backs and erect bristles {crotach agus miir- 
lach). Many maintain these wild cats have no connec- 
tion with the Fairies, but are witches in disguise. 


The elves have got a worse name for stealing than 
they deserve. So far as taking things without the 
knowledge or consent of the owners is concerned, the 
accusation is well-founded ; they neither ask nor obtain 
leave, but there are important respects in which their 
depredations differ from the pilferings committed among 
men by jail-birds and other dishonest people. 

The Fairies do not take their booty away bodily , 
they only take what is called in Gaelic its toradk, i.e. 
its substance, .virtue, fruit, or benefit. The outward 
appearance is left, but the reality is gone. Thus, when 


a cow is elf-taken, it appears to its owner only as 
suddenly smitten by some strange disease {chaidh am 
beathach ud a ghonadli). In reality the cow is gone, and 
only its semblance remains, animated it may be by an 
Elf, who receives all the attentions paid to the sick 
cow, but gives nothing in return. The seeming cow 
lies on its side, and cannot be made to rise. It con- 
sumes the provender laid before it, but does not yield 
milk or grow fat. In some cases it gives plenty of 
milk, but milk that yields no butter. If taken up a 
hill, and rolled down the incline, it disappears altogether. 
If it dies, its flesh ought not to be eaten^it is not beef, 
but a stock of alder wood, an aged Elf, or some trashy 
substitute. Similarly when the toradh of land is taken, 
there remains the appearance of a • crop, but a crop 
without benefit to man or beast — the ears are unfilled, 
the grain is without weight, the fodder without nourish- 

A still more important point of difference is, that 
the Fairies only take away what men deserve to lose. 
When mortals make a secret of icletli), or grumble 
{ceasad) over, what they have, the Fairies get the bene- 
fit, and the owner is a poor man, in the midst of his 
abundance. When (to use an illustration the writer has 
more than once heard) a farmer speaks disparagingly 
of his crop, and, though it be heavy, tries to conceal 
his good fortune, the Fairies take away the benefit of 
his increase. The advantage goes away mysteriously 


' in pins and needles ' {na phrineachan 's na shnddun), 
' in alum and madder ' {na aim 's na mkadair), as the 
saying is, and the farmer gains nothing from his crop. 
Particularly articles of food, the possession of which 
men denied with oaths {air a thiomnadh), became Fairy 

The elves are also blamed for lifting with them 
articles mislaid. These are generally restored as 
mysteriously and unaccountably as they were taken 
away. Thus, a woman blamed the elves for taking 
her thimble. It was placed beside her, and when 
looked for could not be found. Some time after she 
was sitting alone on the hillside and found the thimble 
in her lap. This confirmed her belief in its being 
the Fairies that took it away. In a like mysterious 
manner a person's bonnet might be whipped off his 
head, or the pot for supper be lifted off the fire, and 
left by invisible hands on the middle of the floor. 

The accusation of taking milk is unjust. It is 
brought against the elves only in books, and never 
in the popular creed. The Fairies take cows, sheep, 
goats, horses, and it may be the substance or benefit 
{ioradti) of butter and cheese, but not milk. 

Many devices were employed to thwart Fairy 
inroads. A burning ember {eibhleag) was put into 
' sowens ' {cabhruich), one of the weakest and most 
unsubstantial articles of human food and very liable 
to Fairy attack. It was left there till the dish was 


ready for boiling, i.e. about three days after. A sieve 
should not be allowed out of the house after dark, 
and no meal unless it be sprinkled with salt. Other- 
wise, the Fairies may, by means of them, take the 
substance out of the whole farm produce. For the 
same reason a hole should be put with the finger in 
the little cake {bonnach beag' s toll ann), made with 
the remnant of the meal after a baking, and when 
given to children, as it usually is, a piece should be 
broken off it. A nail driven into a cow, killed by 
falling over a precipice, was supposed by the more 
superstitious to keep the elves away. 

One of the most curious thefts ascribed to them 
was that of querns,^ or handmills {^Bra, Brathuinn). 
To keep them away these handy and useful imple- 
ments should be turned deiseal, i.e. with the right 
hand turn, as sunwise. What is curious in the belief 
is, that the handmill is said to have been originally 

^ The use of some kind of mill, generally a hand mill, is as universal as 
the growth of grain, and the necessity for reducing the solid grain into the 
more palatable form of meal no doubt led to its early invention. The 
Gaelic ineil (or beil), to grind, the English mill, the Latin tnola, and the 
Greek iivXt], show that it was known to the Aryan tribes at a period long 
anterior to history. The handmill mentioned in Scripture, worked by two 
women, seems the same with that still to be found in obscure corners in 
the West Highlands. 

An instrument so useful to man in the less advanced stages of his 
civilization could not fail to be looked upon with much respect and good 
feeling. In the Hebrides it was rubbed every Saturday evening with a 
wisp of straw ' for payment ' of its benevolent labours (sop ga shuathadh 
ris a bhrh ga phigheadh). Meal ground in it is coarser than ordinary 
meal, and is known as gairbhein. 


got from the Fairies themselves. Its sounds have 
often been heard by the belated peasant, as it was 
being worked inside some grassy knoll, and songs, 
sung by the Fairy women employed at it, have been 


Most frequently it was women, not yet risen from 
childbed, and their babes that the Fairies abducted. 
On every occasion of a birth, therefore, the utmost 
anxiety prevailed to guard the mother and child from 
their attacks. It is said that the Fairy women are 
unable to suckle their own children, and hence their 
desire to secure a human wet-nurse. This, however, 
does not explain why they want the children, nor 
indeed is it universally a part of the creed. 

The first care was not to leave a woman alone 
during her confinement. A house full of women 
gathered and watched for three days, in some places 
for eight. Various additional precautions against the 
Fairies were taken in various localities. A row of 
iron nails were driven into the front board of the 
bed ; the smoothing iron or a reaping hook was placed 
under it and in the window ; an old shoe was put 
in the fire ; the door posts were sprinkled with maistir, 
urine kept for washing purposes — a liquid extremely 
offensive to the Fairies ; the Bible was opened, and 
the breath blown across it in the face of the woman 


in childbed ; mystic words of threads were placed 
about the bed ; and, when leaving at the end of the 
three days, the midwife left a little cake of oatmeal 
with a hole in it in the front of the bed. The father's 
shirt wrapped round the new-born babe was esteemed 
a preservative, and if the marriage gown was thrown 
over the wife she could be recovered if, notwithstanding, 
or from neglect of these precautions, she were taken 
away. The name of the Deity solemnly pronounced 
over the child in baptism was an additional protection. 
If the Fairies were seen, water in which an ember was 
extinguished, or the burning peats themselves, thrown 
at them, drove them away. Even quick wit and 
readiness of reply in the mother has sent them off"^ 

It is not to be supposed that these precautions were 
universally known or practised. In that case such a 
thing as an elf-struck child would be unknown. The 
gathering of women and the placing of iron about the 
bed seem to have been common, but the burning of old 
shoes was confined to the Western Isles. If it existed 
elsewhere, its memory has been forgotten. That it is 
an old part of the creed is evident from the dislike of 

' Other charms used on the occasion were the taking of the woman to be 
.delivered several times across the byre-drain [tune), the opening of every 
lock in the house, and ceremonies by means of 

" A grey hanli of flax and a cocliscomb, 
Two things against the commandments." 
These practices seem to have been l<nown only to the very superstitious, 
and to have been local. The first belonged to Ross-shire, the second to 
the north-west mainland of Argyllshire, and tlie last to Tiree. 


the Fairies to strong smells, being also part of the 
Teutonic creed. The blowing of the breath across 
the Bible existed in Sunart, part of the west of 


When they succeeded in their felonious attempts, 
the elves left instead of the mother, and bearing her 
semblance, a stock of wood {stoc maide), and in place of 
the infant an old mannikin of their own race. The 
child grew up a peevish misshapen brat, ever* crying 
and complaining. It was known, however, to be a 
changeling by the skilful in such matters, from the 
large quantities of water it drank — a tubful before 
morning, if left beside it — its large teeth, its inordinate 
appetite, its fondness for music and its powers of danc- 
ing, its unnatural precocity, or from some unguarded 
remark as to its own age. It is to the aged elf, left in 
the place of child or beast, that the name sithbheire 
(pron. sheevere) is properly given, and as may well be 
supposed, to say of one who has an ancient manner 
or look, ' he is but a sithbheire,' or ' he is only 
one that came from a brugh,' is an expression of 
considerable contempt. When a person does a sense- 
less action, it is said of him, that he has been ' taken 
out of himself [air a thoirt as), that is, taken away 
by the Fairies. 

The changeling was converted into the stock of a 


tree by saying a powerful rhyme over him, or by 
sticking him with a knife. He could be driven away 
by running at him with a red-hot ploughshare ; by 
getting between him and the bed and threatening 
him with a drawn sword ; by leaving him out on 
the hillside, and paying no attention to his shrieking 
and screaming ; by putting him sitting on a gridiron, 
or in a creel, with a fire below ; by sprinkling him 
well out of the maistir tub ; or by dropping him into 
the river. There can be no doubt these modes of 
treatment would rid a house of any disagreeable 
visitor, at least of the human race. 

The story of the changeling, who was detected by 
means of egg-shells, seems in some form or other to 
be as widespread as the superstition itself Empty 
egg-shells are ranged round the hearth, and the 
changeling, when he finds the house quiet and thinks 
himself unobserved, gets up from bed and examines 
them. Finding them empty, he is heard to remark 
sententiously, as he peers into each, " this is but a 
wind-bag [chaneil a' so ach balg fas) ; I am so many 
hundred years old, and I never saw the like of this.'' 


Many of the deformities in children are attributed to 

the Fairies. When a child is incautiously left alone by 

its mother, for however short a time, the Fairies may 

come and give its little legs such a twist as will leave 


it hopelessly lame ever after. To give them their due, 
however, they sometimes took care of children whom 
they found forgotten, and even of grown up people 
sleeping incautiously in dangerous places. 

The elves have children of their own, and require the 
services of midwives like the human race. ' Howdies,' 
as they are called, taken in the way of their profession 
to the Fairy dwelling, found on coming out that the 
time they had stayed was incredibly longer or shorter 
than they imagined, and none of them was ever the 
better ultimately of her adventure. 

The Gaelic sithche, like the English elf, has two ideas, 
almost amounting to two meanings, attached to it. In 
the plural, shhchean, it conveys the idea of a diminutive 
race, travelling in eddy winds, lifting men from the 
ground, stealing, and entering houses in companies ; 
while in the singular, sithche, the idea conveyed is that 
of one who approaches mankind in dimensions. The 
' man and woman of peace ' hire themselves to the 
human race for a day's Work or a term of service, and 
contract marriages with it. The elfin youth {Gille 
slth) has enormous strength, that of a dozen men it 
is said, and the elfin women (or Banshis) are remark- 
ably handsome. The aged of the race were generally 


the reverse, in point of beauty, especially those of them 
.substituted for Fairy-abducted children and animals. 

Mortals should have nothing to do with any of the 
race. No good comes out of the unnatural connection. 
However enchanting, at first, the end is disaster and 
death. When, therefore, the sithche is first met, it is 
recommended by the prudent to pass by without notic- 
ing ; or, if obliged or incautious enough to speak, and 
^pressed to make an appointment, to give fair words, 
saying, ' If I promise that, I will fulfil it' {ina gheallas 
mi sin, co-gheallaidh ini e), still sufficiently near houses 
to attract the attention of the dogs. They immediately 
.give chase, and the Fairy flies away. 

The Gi//e slth (or Elfin youth) is very solicitoijs 
about his offspring when his mortal mistress bears him 
children, and the love that women have to him as 
their lover or familiar spirit {leannan shk) is un- 
naturally passionate. The Elfin mistress is not always 
so secure of the affections of her human lover. He 
may get tired of her and leave her. On meeting 
her first he is put under spells to keep appointments 
with her in future every night. If he dares for one 
night to neglect his appointment, she gives him isiich 
a sound thrashing the first time she gets hold of him 
that he never neglects it again. She disappears at 
the cock-crowing. While he remains faithful to her, 
she assists him at his trade as farmer, shepherd, etc., 
makes him presents of clothes, tells him when he is 


to die, and even when he is to leave her and get 
married She gives Sian a magic belt or other charm, 
to protect him in danger. If offended, however, her 
lover is in danger of his life. The children of these 
alliances are said to be the urisks. 

Those who have taken Elfin women for wives have 
found a sad termination to their mesalliance. The 
defect or peculiarity of the fair enchantress, which her 
lover at first had treated as of no consequence, proves 
his ruin. Her voracity thins his herds, he gets tired 
of her or angry with her, and in an unguarded moment 
reproaches her with her origin. She disappears, taking 
with her the children and the fortune she brought him. 
The gorgeous palace, fit for the entertainment of kings, 
vanishes, and he finds himself again in his old black 
dilapidated hut, with a pool of rain-drippings from the 
roof in the middle of the floor. 


At times the Fairy woman {Bean shith) is seen in 
lonely places, beside a pool or stream, washing the 
linen of those soon to die, and folding and beating it 
with her hands on a stone in the middle of the water. 
She is then known as the Bean-nighe, or washing 
woman ; and her being seen is a sure sign that death is 

In Mull and Tiree she is said to have praeternaturally 
long breasts, which are in the way as she stoops at her 


washing. She throws them over her shoulders, and 
they hang down her back. Whoever sees her must 
not turn away, but steal up behind and endeavour to 
approach her unawares. When he is near enough he is 
to catch one of her breasts, and, putting it to his mouth, 
call herself to witness that she is his first nursing or 
foster-mother {jnuime ciche). She answers that he 
has need of that being the case, and will then communi- 
cate whatever knowledge he desires. If she says the 
shirt she is washing is that of an enemy he allows the 
washing to go on, and that man's death follows ; if it 
be that of her captor or any of his friends, she is put a 
stop to. 

In Skye the Bean-nighe is said to be squat in figure 
{tiugkiosal), or not unlike a ' small pitiful child ' 
(J)aisde beag brhnach^. If a person caught her she told 
all that would befall him in after life. She answered 
all his questions, but he must answer hers. Men did 
not like to tell what she said. Women dying in child- 
bed were looked upon as dying prematurely, and it 
was believed that unless all the clothes left by them 
were washed they would have to wash them themselves 
till the natural period of their death. It was women 
' dreeing this weird ' who were the washing women. 
If the person hearing them at work beating their clothes 
{slacartaicK) caught them before being observed, he 
could not be heard by them ; but if they saw him 
first, he lost the power of his limbs {Ifigh). 


In the highlands of Perthshire the washing woman 
is represented as small and round, and dressed in pretty- 
green. She spreads by moonlight the linen winding 
sheets of those soon to die, and is caught by getting 
.between her and the stream. 

She can also be caught and mastered and made 
to communicate her information at the point of the 
sword. Oscar, son of the poet Ossian, met her on his 
way to the Cairbre's feast, at which the dispute arose 
which led to his death. She was encountered by Hugh 
of the Little Head on the evening before his last 
.battle, and left him as her parting gift (Jagail), that he 
should become the frightful apparition he did after 
death, the most celebrated in the West Highlands. 


The song of the Fairy woman foreboded great 
calamity, and men did not like to hear it. Scott 
calls it 

" The fatal Banshi's boding scream," 

but it was not a scream, only a wailing murmur {torman 
mulaid) of unearthly sweetness and melancholy. 


The Banshi is sometimes confounded with the Glais- 
tig, the apparition of a woman, acting as tutelary 
guardian of the site to which she is attached. Many 


people use Banshi and Glaistig as convertible terms^ 
and the confusion thence arising extends largely to 
books. The true Glaistig is a woman of human race,, 
who has been put under enchantments, and to whom a 
Fairy nature has been given. She wears a green dress, 
like Fairy women, but her face is wan and grey, whence 
her name Glaistig, from glas, grey. She differs also in 
haunting castles and the folds of the cattle, and confin- 
ing herself to servant's work, 


The Banshi is, without doubt, the original of the 
Queen of Elfland, mentioned in ballads of the South of 
Scotland. The Elfin Queen met Thomas of Ercil- 
doune by the Eildon tree, and took him to her 
enchanted realm, where he was kept for seven years. 
She gave him the power of foretelling the future, ' the 
tongue that never lied.' At first she was the most 
beautiful woman he had ever seen, but when he next 
looked — 

" The hair that hung upon her head, 

The half was black, the half was grey, 
And all the rich clothing was away 
That he before saw in that, stead ; 
Her eyes seemed out that were so grey, 
And all her body like the lead." 

In Gaelic tales seven years is a common period of, 
detention among the Fairies, the leannansith coxnvm^m- , 


cates to her lover the knowledge of future events, and 
in the -end is looked upon by him with aversion. There 
is no mention, however, of Fairyland, or of an Elfin 
King or Queen, and but rarely of Fairies riding. True 
Thomas, who is as well known in Highland lore as he 
is in the Lowlands, is said to be still among the Fairies, 
and to attend every market on the look-out for suitable 
horses. When he has made up his complement he will 
appear again among men, and a great battle will be 
fought on the Clyde. 

The great protection against the Elfin race (and this 
is perhaps the most noticeable point in the whole super- 
stition) is Iron, or preferably steel {Cruaidh). The metal 
in any form — a sword, a knife, a pair of scissors, a needle, 
a nail, a ring, a bar, a piece of reaping-hook, a gun- 
barrel, a fish-hook (and tales will be given illustrative of 
all these) — is all-powerful. On entering a Fairy dwell- 
ing, a piece of steel, a knife, needle, or fish-hook, stuck 
in the door, takes from the Elves the power of closing 
it till the intruder comes out again. A knife stuck in a 
deer carried home at night keeps them from laying 
their weight on the animal. A knife or nail in one's 
pocket prevents his being ' lifted ' at night. Nails in 
the front bench of the bed keep Elves from women ' in 
the straw,' and their babes, As additional safe-guards, 
the smoothing-iron should be put below the bed, and 


the reaping-hook in the window. A nail in the carcase 
of a bull that fell over a rock was believed to preserve 
its flesh from them. Playing the Jew's harp {tromb) 
kept the Elfin women at a distance from the hunter, 
because the tongue of the instrument is of steel. So 
also a shoemaker's awl in the door-post of his bothy 
kept a Glastig from entering. 

Fire thrown into water in which the feet have been 
washed takes away the power of the water to admit the 
Fairies into the house at night ; a burning peat put in 
sowens to hasten their fermenting {greasadh gortachadh) 
kept the substance in them till ready to boil. Martin 
( West Isl.) says fire was carried round lying-in women, 
and round about children before they were christened, 
to keep mother and infant from the power of evil spirits. 
When the Fairies were seen coming in at the door 
burning embers thrown towards them drove them away. 

Another safe-guard is oatmeal. When it is sprinkled 
on one's clothes or carried in the pocket no Fairy will 
venture near, and it was usual with people going on 
journeys after nightfall to adopt the precaution of 
taking some with them. In Mull and Tiree the 
pockets of boys going any distance after nightfall were 
filled with oatmeal by their anxious mothers, and old 
men are remembered who sprinkled themselves with it 
when going on a night journey. In Skye, oatmeal was 
not looked upon as proper Fairy food, and it was said 
if a person wanted to see the Fairies he should not 


take oatmeal with him ; if he did he would not be 
able to see them. When ' the folk ' take a loan of meal 
they do not appear to have any objections to oatmeal. 
The meal returned, however, was always barleymeal. 

Oatmeal, taken out of the house after dark, was 
sprinkled with salt, and unless this was done, the Fairies 
might through its instrumentality take the substance 
out of the farmer's whole grain. To keep them from 
getting the benefit of meal itself, housewives, when 
baking oatmeal bannocks, made a little thick cake with 
the last of the meal, between their palms (not kneading 
it like the rest of the bannocks), for the youngsters to 
put a hole through it with the forefinger. This palm 
bannock {bonnach boise) is not to be toasted on the 
gridiron, but placed to the fire leaning against a stone 
{leac nam bonnach), well-known where a ' griddle ' is 
not available. Once the Fairies were overtaken carrying 
with them the benefit {toradJi) of the farm in a large 
thick cake, with the handle of the quern {sgonnan na 
bra) stuck through it, and forming a pole on which 
it was carried. This cannot occur when the last 
bannock baked {Bonnach fallaid) is a little cake with 
a hole in it {Bonnach beag 's toll ann)} 

^ Carleton ( Tales and Stories, p. 74) mentions an Irish belief of a 
kindred character connected with oatmeal. When one cxoised fair gurtha, 
or hungry grass (Scot., feur gorta, famine grass), a spot on which the 
Fairies had left one of their curses, he was struck with weakness and 
hunger, but, " if the person afflicted but tasted as much meal or flour as 
would lie on the point of a penknife, he will instantaneously break the 
spell of the Fairies, and recover his former strength. " 


Maistir, or stale urine, kept for the scouring of 
blankets and other cloth, when sprinkled on the cattle 
and on the door-posts and walls of the house, kept the 
Fairies, and indeed every mischief, at a distance. This 
sprinkling was done regularly on the last evening of 
every quarter of the year (Ji-uile latha ceann raidhe). 

Plants of great power were the Mbthan {Sagina 
procumbens, trailing pearlwort) and Achlasan Challum- 
chille (Hypericum pulcrum, St. John's wort). The 
former protected its possessor from fire and the attacks 
of the Fairy women. The latter warded off fevers, and 
kept the Fairies from taking people away in their 
sleep. There are rhymes which must be said when 
these plants are pulled. 

Stories representing the Bible as a protection must 
be of a recent date. It is not so long since a copy of 
the Bible was not available in the Highlands for that 
or any other purpose. When the Book did become 
accessible, it is not surprising that, as in other places, 
a blind unmeaning reverence should accumulate 
round it. 

Such are the main features of the superstition of the 
Sitkckean, the still-folk, the noiseless people, as it 
existed, and in some degree still exists, in the High- 
lands, and particularly in the Islands of Scotland. 
There is a clear line of demarcation between it and 
every other Highland superstition, though the distinc- 
tion has not always been observed by writers on the 


subject. The following Fairy characteristics deserve to 
be particularly noticed. 

It was peculiar to the Fairy women to assume the 
shape of deer; while witches became mice, hares, cats, 
gulls, or black sheep, and the devil a he-goat or 
gentleman with a horse's or pig's foot. A running 
stream could not be crossed by evil spirits, ghosts, and 
apparitions, but made no difference to the Fairies. If 
all tales be true, they could give a dip in the passing 
to those they were carrying away ; and the stone, on 
which the " Washing Woman " folded the shirts of the 
doomed, was in the middle of water. Witches took the 
milk from cows ; the Fairies had cattle of their own ; 
and when they attacked the farmer's dairy, it was to 
take away the cows themselves, i.e. the cow in appear- 
ance remained, but its benefit (the real cow) was gone. 
The Elves have even the impertinence at times to drive 
back the cow at night to pasture on the corn of the 
person from whom they have stolen it. The phrenzy 
with which Fairy women afflicted men was only a 
wandering madness ((potraXea fxavia), which made them 
roam about restlessly, without knowing what they were 
doing, or leave home at night to hold appointments 
with the Elfin women themselves ; by druidism {druid- 
heachd) men were driven from their kindred, and made 
to imagine themselves undergoing marvellous adven- 
tures and changing shape. Dogs crouched, or leapt 
at their master's throat, in the presence of evil spirits, 


but they gave chase to the Fairies. Night alone was 
frequented by the powers of darkness, and they fled at 
the cock-crowing ; the Fairies were encountered in the 
day-time as well. There was no intermarriage between 
men and the other beings of superstition, but women 
were courted and taken away by Fairy men, and men 
courted Fairy women (or rather were courted by them), 
married, and took them to their houses. A well- 
marked characteristic is the tinge of the ludicrous that 
pervades the creed. The Fairy is an object of con- 
tempt as well as of fear, and, though the latter be the 
prevailing feeling, there is observably a desire to make 
the Elves contemptible and ridiculous. A person should 
not unnecessarily provoke the anger of those who 
cannot retaliate, much less of a race so ready to take 
offence and so sure to retaliate as the Fairies. In 
revenge for this species of terror, the imagination loves 
to depict the Elves in positions and doing actions that 
provoke a smile. The part of the belief which relates 
to the Banshi is comparatively free from this feeling, 
but the ' little people ' and changelings come in for a 
full share of it. Perhaps this part of the superstition is 
not entirely to be explained as the recoil of the mind 
from the oppression of a belief in invisible beings that 
may be cognizant of men's affairs and only wait for an 
opportunity to exert an evil influence over them, but 
its existence is striking. 




This is a tale, diffused in different forms, over the 

whole West Highlands. Versions of it have been 

heard from Skye, Ardnamurchan, Lochaber, Craignish, 

Mull, Tiree, differing but slightly from each other. 

The Charmed Hill (Beinn Shiantd), from its height, 

greenness, or pointed summit, forms a conspicuous object 

on the Ardnamurchan coast, at the north entrance of 

the Sound of Mull. On 'the shoulder' of this hill, were 

two hamlets, Sginid and Corryvulin, the lands attached 

to which, now forming part of a large sheep farm, were 

at one time occupied in common by three tenants, one 

of whom was named Luran Black {Luran Mac-ille-dhui). 

One particular season a cow of Luran's was found 

unaccountably dead each morning. Suspicion fell on 

the tenants of the Culver {an cuilibheir), a green knoll 

in Corryvulin, having the reputation of being tenanted 

by the Fairies. Luran resolved to watch his cattle for 



a night, and ascertain the cause of his mysterious 
losses. Before long he saw the Culver opening, and a 
host of little people pouring out. They surrounded a 
grey cow {mart glas) belonging to him and drove it 
into the knoll. Not one busied himself in doing this 
more than Luran himself; he was, according to the 
Gaelic expression, 'as one and as two' {inar a h-aon 's 
mar a dha) in his exertions. The cow was killed and 
skinned. An old Elf, a tailor sitting in the upper part 
of the brugh, with a needle in the right lappel of his 
coat, was forcibly caught hold of, stuffed into the cow's 
hide, and sewn up. He was then taken to the door 
and rolled down the slope. Festivities commenced, 
and whoever might be on the floor dancing, Luran was 
sure to be. He was 'as one and as two' at the dance, 
as he had been at driving the cow. A number of 
gorgeous cups and dishes were put on the table, and 
Luran, resolving to make up for the loss of the grey 
cow, watched his opportunity and made off with one 
of the cups [corn). The Fairies observed him and 
started in pursuit. He heard one of them remark : 
" Not swift would be Luran 
If it were not the hardness of his bread." ^ 

His pursuers were likely to overtake him, when a 
friendly voice called out : 

" Luran, Luran Black, 
Betake thee to the black stones of the shore." ^ 

' Cha bu luath Luran '^ Lurain, Lurain Mhic-ille-dhui 

Mar a bhi cruas arain. Thoir ort clacha du a chladaich. 


Below high water mark, no Fairy, ghost, or demon can 
come, and, acting on the friendly advice, Luran reached 
the shore, and keeping below tide mark made his way 
home in safety. He heard the outcries of the person 
who had called out to him (probably a former acquaint- 
ance who had been taken by 'the people') being 
belaboured by the Fairies for his ill-timed officiousness. 
Next morning, the grey cow was found lying dead 
with its feet in the air, at the foot of the Culver, and 
Luran said that a needle would be found in its right 
shoulder. On this proving to be the case, he allowed 
none of the flesh to be eaten, and threw it out of the 

One of the fields, tilled in common by Luran and 
two neighbours, was every year, when ripe, reaped by 
the Fairies in one night, and the benefit of the crop 
disappeared. An old man was consulted, and he 
undertook to watch the crop. He saw the shien of 
Corryvulin open, and a troop of people coming out. 
There was an old man at their head, who put the 
company in order, some to shear, some to bind the 
sheaves, and some to make stooks. On the word of 
command being given, the field was reaped in a 
wonderfully short time. The watcher, calling aloud, 
counted the reapers. The Fairies never troubled the 
field again. 

Their persecution of Luran did not, however, cease. 
While on his way to Inveraray Castle, with his Fairy 

LURAN. 55 

cup, he was lifted mysteriously with his treasure out of 
the boat, in which he was taking his passage, and was 
never seen or heard of after. 

According to another Ardnamurchan version, Luran 
was a butler boy in Mingarry Castle. One night he 
entered a Fairy dwelling, and found the company within 
feasting and making merry. A shining cup, called an 
cupa cearrarach, was produced, and whatever liquor the 
person having it in his hand wished for and named, 
came up within it. Whenever a dainty appeared on 
the table, Luran was asked, " Did you ever see the like 
of that in Mingarry Castle ? " At last, the butler boy 
wished the cup to be full of water, and throwing its 
contents on the lights, and extinguishing them, ran 
away with it in his hand. The Fairies gave chase. 
Some one among them called out to Luran to make 
for the shore. He reached the friendly shelter, and 
made his way below high-water mark to the castle, 
which he entered by a stair leading to the sea. The 
cup remained long in Mingarry Castle, but was at last 
lost in a boat that sank at Mail Point {Rutka MhdiP). 

A Tiree version of the tale says that Luran entered 
an open Fairy dwelling {brugJi), where he found the 
inmates asleep, and a large cauldron, or copper, stand- 
ing on the floor. He took up the kettle, and made off 
with it. When going out at the door, the cauldron 
struck one of the door-posts, and made a ringing 
The Fairies, sixteen men in number, started out of 


sleep, and gave chase. As they pressed on Luran, one 
of them (probably a friend who had at one time been 
' taken ') called out, " Luran, Luran, make for the black 
stones of the shore." He did so, and made his escape. 
It was then the Fairies remarked : " Luran would' be 
swift if it were not the hardness of his bread. If Luran- 
had warm milk and soft barley bread, not one among 
the sixteen of us could catch him." 

According to the Lochaber story, the Fairies stole a 
white cow from a farmer, and every night took it back 
again to pasture on his corn. He chased them with 
his dog Luran, but they threw bread behind them, 
which the dog loitered to devour, so that it never over- 
took the white cow. The Fairies were heard saying 
among themselves, " Swift would be Luran if it were 
not the hardness of his bread. If Luran got bread 
singed and twice turned, it would catch the white cow." 
The field where this occurred is known as the Field of 
the White Cow [acha na bb bain), above Brackletter, in 

According to a Skye version, the Fairies came to 
take with them the benefit {toradh) of the farmer's 
land, but his dog Luran drove them away. One night 
they were overheard saying, " Swift would be Luran if 
it were not the hardness of his bread. If thin porridge 
were Luran's food, deer would not overtake Luran." 
Next day thin porridge, or ' crowdie,' was given to 
Luran, and it ate too much, and could not run at all. 

. • LURAN. 57 

The Fairies got away, laughing heartily at the success 
of their trick. 

In Craignish, Argyllshire, Luran was a dog, old, and 
unable to devour quickly the bread thrown it by the 
Fairies. There are, no doubt, many other versions of 
the story current, but these are sufficient to show the 
want of uniformity in popular tales of this kind. 

In Raasa, a man, named Hugh, entered a Fairy 
dwelling where there was feasting going on. The 
Fairies welcomed him heartily, and pledged his health. 
" Here's to you, Hugh," " I drink to you, Hugh " 
{cleoch ort, Eoghairi), was to be heard on every side. 
He was offered drink in a fine glittering cup. 
When he got the cup in his hands he ran off with 
it. The Fairies let loose one of their dogs after him. 
He made his escape, and heard the Fairies calling 
back the dog by its name of " Farvann " {Farbhann I 
Farbhann !). The cup long remained in the posses- 
sion of the Macleods of Raasa. 

The sandbank of this name (Bac Fhionnlaidh) on 
the farm of Ballevulin, in Tiree, was. at one time a 
noted Fairy residence, but, has since been blown level 
with the ground. It caused surprise to many that no 
traces of the Fairies were found in it. Its Fairy 


tenants were at one time in the habit of sending 
every evening to the house of a smith in the neigh- 
bourhood for the loan of a kettle {iasad coire). The 
smith, when giving it, always said : 

" A smith's due is coals. 
And to send cold iron out ; 
A cauldron's due is a bone, 
And to come safe back."* 

Under the power of this rhyme the cauldron was 
restored safely before morning. One evening the 
smith was from home, and his wife, when the Fairies 
came for the usual loan, never thought of saying the 
rhyme. In consequence the cauldron was not returned. 
On finding this out the smith scolded savagely, and his 
wife, irritated by his reproaches, rushed away for the kettle. 
She found the brugh open, went in, and (as is recom- 
mended in such cases), without saying a word, snatched 
up the cauldron and made off with it. When going out 
at the door she heard one of the Fairies calling out : 

" Thou dumb sharp one, thou dumb sharp. 
That came from the land of the dead, 
And drove the cauldron from the brugh — 
Undo the Knot, and lose the Rough." ^ 

She succeeded in getting home before the Rough, the 

' ' ' Dlighe gobhainn gual 

Is iarrunn fuar a chuir amach 
'S dlighe coire cniimh 
'Se thighinn slan gti tigh." 

2 "A Gheur bhalbh ud, 's a Gheur bhalbh, 
Thiinig oirnn a tir na marbh, 
Dh' fhuadaich an coire o'n bhrugh, — 
Fuasgail an dul is leig an Garbh." 


Fairy dog, overtook her, and the Fairies never again 
came for the loan of the kettle. 

This story is given, in a slightly different form, by 
Mr. Campbell, in his Tales of the West Highlands 
(Vol. ii., p. 44), and the scene is laid in Sanntrai, an 
island near Barra. The above version was heard in 
Tiree by the writer, several years before he saw Mr. 
Campbell's book. There is no reason to suppose the 
story belongs originally either to Tiree or Barra. It 
is but an illustration of the tendency of popular tales 
to localize themselves where they are told. 

A green mound, near the village of Pennygown 
{Peigh'nn-a-ghobhanti), in the Parish of Salen, Mull, was 
at one time occupied by a benevolent company of 
Fairies. People had only to leave at night on the 
hillock the materials for any work they wanted done, 
as wool to be spun, thread for weaving, etc., telling 
what was wanted, and before morning the work was 
finished. One night a wag left the wood of a fishing- 
net buoy, a short, thick piece of wood, with a request 
to have it made into a ship's mast. The Fairies were 
heard toiling all night, and singing, " Short life and 
ill-luck attend the man who asked us to make a long 
ship's big mast from the wood of a fishing-net buoy." ' 

' Diomaich is mi-bhuaidh air an fhear a dh'iarr oirnn crann mir luinge 
fada dheanadh de mhaide bhola libn. 


In the morning the work was not done, and these 
Fairies never after did anything for any one. 

A company of Fairies lived near the Green Loch 
{Lochan Uaine), on Ben Lomond. Whatever was left 
overnight near the loch — cloth, wool, or thread — was 
dyed by them of any desired colour before morning. 
A specimen of the desired colour had to be left at the 
same time. A person left a quantity of undyed thread, 
and a piece of black and white twisted thread along 
with it, to show that he wanted part of the hank black 
and part white. The Fairies thought the pattern was 
to be followed, and the work done at one and the same 
dyeing. Not being able to do this, they never dyed 
any more. 

Some six generations ago there lived at Port Vista 
{Port Bhisstd), in Tiree, a dark, fierce man, known as 
Big Malcolm Clark {Galium vtor mac-a-ChleiricK). He 
was a very strong man, and in his brutal violence 
produced the death of several people. Tradition also 
says of him that he killed a water-horse, and fought a 
Banshi with a horse-rib at , the long hollow, covered in 
winter with water, called the Leig. In this encounter 
his own little finger was broken. When sharpening 
knives, old women in Tiree said, " Friday in Clark's 


town " (^Di-haoine am baile mhic-a- Chleirich), with the 
object of making him and his the objects of Fairy 
wrath. One evening, as he was driving a tether-pin 
into a hillock, a head was popped up out of the ground, 
and told him to take some other place for securing his 
beast, as he was letting the rain into 'their' dwelling. 
Some time after this he had a painfully sore leg {bha i 
gu doruinneach doirbh). He went to the shl'-en, where 
the head had appeared, and, finding it open, entered in 
search of a cure for his leg. The Fairies told him to 
put 'earth on the earth' {Cuir an talanih air an talamli). 
He applied every kind of earth he could think of to 
the leg, but without effect. At the end of three months 
he went again to the hillock, and when entering put 
steel icruaidli) in the door. He was told to go out, 
but he would not, nor would he withdraw the steel till 
told the proper remedy. At last he was told to apply 
the red clay of a small loch in the neighbourhood 
{criadh ruadh Lochan ni'h fhonhairle). He did so, and 
the leg was cured. 

Two young men, coming home after nightfall on 
Hallowe'en, each with a jar of whisky on his back, 
heard music by the roadside, and, seeing a dwelling 
open and illuminated, and dancing and merriment 
going on within, entered. One of them joined the 
dancers, without as much as waiting to lay down the 


burden he was carrying. The other, suspecting the 
place and company, stuck a needle in the door as he 
entered, and got away when he liked. That day 
twelvemonths he came back for his companion, and 
found him still dancing with the jar of whisky on 
his back. Though more than half-dead with fatigue, 
the enchanted dancer begged to be allowed to finish 
the reel. When brought to the open-air he was only 
skin and bone. 

This tale is localized in the Ferintosh district, and at 
the Slope of Big Stones {Leathad nan Clacha mbra) in 
Harris. In Argyllshire people say it happened in the 
north. In the Ferintosh story only one of the young 
men entered the brugh, and the door immediately 
closed. The other lay under suspicion of having 
murdered his companion, but, by advice of an old 
man, went to the same place on the same night the 
following year, and by putting steel in the door of 
the Fairy dwelling, which he found open, recovered 
his companion. In the Harris story, the young men 
were a bridegroom and his brother-in-law, bringing 
home whisky for the marriage. 

Two young men in lona were coming in the 
evening from fishing on the rocks. On their way, 
when passing, they found the shr-en of that island open, 
and entered. One of them joined the dancers, with- 
out waiting to lay down the string of fish he had 
in his hand. The other stuck a fish-hook in the door. 


and when he wished made his escape. He came 
back for his companion that day twelvemonths, and 
found him st^ll dancing with the string of fish in his 
hand. On taking him to the open air the fish dropped 
from the string, rotten. 

Donald, who at one time carried on foot the mails 
from Tobermory, in Mull, to Grass Point Ferry {Ru- 
an-fhiarain), where the mail service crosses to the 
mainland, was a good deal given to drink, and con- 
sequently to loitering by the way. He once lay 
down to have a quiet sleep near a Fairy-haunted 
rock above Drimfin. He saw the rock open, and a 
flood of light pouring out at the door. A little man 
came to him and said in English, " Come in to the 
ball, Donald," but Donald fled, and never stopped till 
he reached the houses at Tobermory, two miles off". He 
said he heard the whizz and rustling of the Fairies 
after him the whole way. The incident caused a good 
deal of talk in the neighbourhood, and Donald and his 
fright were made the subject of some doggerel verse, 
in which the Fairy invitation is thus given : 

" Rise, rise, rise, Donald, 

Rise, Donald, was the call, 
Rise up now, Donald, 

Come in, Donald, to the ball." 

It is well known that Highland Fairies, who speak 
English, are the most dangerous of any. 

A young man was sent for the loan of a sieve, and. 


mistaking his way, entered a" brugh, which was that 
evening open. He found there two women grinding 
at a handmill, two women baking, and a mixed party- 
dancing on the floor. He was invited to sit down, 
" Farquhar MacNeill, be seated " {Fhearchair 'ie Neill, 
bi'd shuidhe). He thought he would first have a reel 
with the dancers. He forgot all about the sieve, and 
lost all desire to leave the company he was in. One 
night he accompanied the band among whom he had 
fallen on one of its expeditions, and after careering 
through the skies, stuck in the roof of a house. 
Looking down the chimney {far-leus), he saw a 
woman dandling a child, and, struck with the sight, 
exclaimed, " God bless you " (^Dia gu d' bheannachadh). 
Whenever he pronounced the Holy Name he was dis- 
enchanted, and tumbled down the chimney ! On 
coming to himself he went in search of his relatives. 
No one could tell him anything about them. At last 
he saw, thatching a house, an old man, so grey and 
thin he took him for a patch of mist resting on the 
house-top. He went and made inquiries of him. The 
old man knew nothing of the parties asked for, but 
said perhaps his father did. Amazed, the young man 
asked him if his father was alive, and on being told he 
was, and where to find him, entered the house. He 
there found a very venerable man sitting in a chair by 
the fire, twisting a straw-rope for .the thatching of the 
house {sniomh siomain). This man also, on being 


questioned, said he knew nothing of the people, but 
perhaps his father did. The father referred to was 
lying in bed, a little shrunken man, and he in like 
manner referred to his father. This remote ancestor, 
being too weak to stand, was found in a purse 
{sporran) suspended at the end of the bed. On being 
taken out and questioned, the wizened creature said, 
" I did not know the people myself, but I often heard 
my father speaking of them." On hearing this the 
young man crumbled in pieces, and fell down a bundle 
of bones {cual chndmK). 

The incident of the very aged people forms part of 
some versions of the story, " How the Great Description 
(a man's name) was put to Death " {Mar a chaidh an 
Tuairisgeul mhr a chur gu bds). Another form is that 
a stranger came to a house, and at the door found an 
old man crying, because his father had thrashed him. 
He went in, and asking the father why he had thrashed 
his aged son, was told it was because the grandfather 
had been there the day before, and the fellow had 
not the manners to put his hand in his bonnet to him ! 

William M'Kenzie was weaver to the Laird of 
Barcaldine. He and a friend were going home with 
two gallons of whisky in jars strapped on their backs. 
They saw a hillock open and illuminated, and entered. 
William's companion stuck a knife in the door when 


entering. They found inside an old man playing the 
bagpipes, and a company of dancers on the floor. 
William danced one reel, and then another, till his 
companion got tired waiting, and left. When, after 
several days, M'Kenzie did not turn up, the other was 
accused of having murdered him, and was advised, if 
his story was true, to get spades and dig into the 
hillock for his missing friend. A year's delay was 
given, and when the hillock was entered M'Kenzie was 
found still dancing on the floor. After this adventure 
he became the chief weaver in the district ; he did more 
work in a shorter time than any other. At the first 
throw of the shuttle he said, " I and another one are 
here " {inise 's fear eile so !). He also began to make 
pipes, but though a better weaver and piper than he 
had been before, he never prospered. He became known 
as " Black William of the Pipes" {UilLeam du na piobd). 
It is said in Sutherlandshire that a weaver, getting a 
shuttle from the Fairies, can go through three times as 
much work as another man. (Cf Tale of M'Crimmon, 
P- 1 39-) 


A woman in Harris was passing Creag Mhanuis, a 
rock having on its face the appearance of a door, which 
she saw opening, and a woman dressed in green stand- 
ing before it, who called to her to come in to see a sick 
person. The woman was very unwilling to go, but was 


compelled, and went in without taking any precaution. 
She found herself among a large company, for whom 
she was immediately to begin baking bread, and was 
told that when the quantity of meal, not very large, 
given her was entirely used, she would be allowed to 
go away. She began to bake, and made all possible , 
haste to finish the work, but the more she strove the 
less appearance there was of the labour being finished, 
and her courage failed when day after day passed, 
leaving her where she began. At last, after a long 
time, the whole company left for the outer world, 
leaving her, as she thought, alone. When the last 
tramp of their footsteps could no longer be heard, she 
was startled by hearing a groan. On looking through 
an opening which she found in the side of the dwelling, 
she saw a bed-ridden old man, who, on seeing her head 
in the opening, said, " What sent you here ? " "I did 
not come by my own will," she replied. " I was made 
to come to attend to a sick person." He then asked 
what work was given her to do. She told him, and 
how the baking was never likely to be finished. He 
said she must begin again, and that she was not to 
put the dusting meal {an fhallaid) at any time back 
among the baking. She did as he told her, when she 
found her stock of meal soon exhausted, and she got 
out and away before the others returned, much to their 

A woman in Skye was taken to see a sick person in 


a dim, and after attending to her patient, she saw a 
n-umber of women in green dresses coming in and 
getting a loan of meal. They took the meal from a 
skin bag (balgan), which seemed as if it would never be 
exhausted. The woman asked to be sent home, and 
was promised to be allowed to go, on baking the meal 
left in the bag, and spinning a tuft of wool on a distaff 
handed to her. She baked away, but could not ex- 
haust the meal bag; and spun, but seemed never nearer 
the end of her task. A woman came in, and advised 
her to " put the remnant of the meal she baked into 
the little bag, and to spin the tuft upon the distaff as 
the sheep bites the hillock " ^ — i.e., to draw the wool in 
small tufts, like sheep bites, from the distaff On doing 
this, the task was soon finished, the Fairies saying, " A 
blessing rest on you, but a curse on the mouth that 
taught you." ^ On coming out, the woman found she 
had been in the dim for seven years. 

Black Donald of the Multitude {Ddnihnull du an 
t'Sluaigh), as he was ever afterwards known, was 
ploughing on the farm of Baile-pheutrais, in the island 
of Tiree, when a heavy shower came on from the west. 
In these days it required at least two persons to work 

1 Cuir an fhallaid anns' a bhalgan, agus sniomh an toban mara chriomas. 
a chaora an torn. 

^ Beannachd dhuit-sa ach mollachd do bheul t' ionnsachaidh. 


a plough, one to hold it, and one to lead the horses. 

Donald's companion took shelter to the lee of the team. 

When the shower passed, Donald himself was nowhere 

to be found, nor was he seen again till evening. He 

then came from an easterly direction, with his coat on 

his arm. He said the Fairies had taken him in an 

Eddy wind to the islands to the north — Coll, Skye, etc. 

In proof of this, he told that a person (naming him) 

was dead in Coll, and people would be across next day 

for whiskey for the funeral to Kennovay, a village on 

the other side of Bally-pheutrais, where smuggling was 

carried on at the time. This turned out to be the 

case. Donald said he had done no harm while away, 

except that the Fairies had made him throw an arrow 

at, and kill, a speckled cow in Skye. When crossing 

the sea he was in great terror lest he should fall. 

Nial Scrob (Neil the Scrub), a native of Uist, was on 

certain days lifted by the Fairies and taken to Tiree, and 

other islands of the Hebrides, at least so he said himself 

Once he came to Saalun, a village near the north-east 

end of Tiree, and at the fourth house in the village was 

made to throw the Fairy arrow. There is an old saying — 

" Shut the north window. 

And quickly close the window to the south ; 
And shut the window facing west. 
Evil never came from the east." ' 

' " Diiin an uinneaga tuath, 

'S gu luath an uinneaga deas ; 
'.S diiin uinneag na h-airde 'n iar, 

Cha d'thainig ole riamh o'n airde 'n ear." 


And the west window was this night left open. The 
arrow came through the open window, and struck on 
the shoulder a handsome, strong, healthy woman of 
the name of M'Lean, who sat singing cheerfully at her 
work. Her hand fell powerless by her side, and before 
morning she was dead. Neil afterwards told that he 
was the party whom the Fairies had compelled to do 
the mischief In this, and similar stories, it must 
be understood that, according to popular belief, the 
woman was taken away by the Fairies, and may still 
be among them ; only her semblance remained and 
was buried. 

About twenty years ago a cooper, employed on 
board a ship, was landed at Martin's Isle {Eilein 
Mhdrtiunn), near Coigeach, in Ross-shire, to cut 
brooms. He traversed the islet, and then somehow 
fell asleep. He felt as if something were pushing 
him, and, on awakening, found himself in the island 
of Rona, ten miles off. He cut the brooms, and a 
shower of rain coming on, again fell asleep. On 
awaking he found himself back in Martin's Isle. 
He could only, it is argued, have been transported 
back and forward by the Fairies. 

A seer gifted with the second sight (taibhseis), resident 
at Bousd, in the east end of Coll, was frequently lifted 
by Fairies, that staid in a hillock in his neighbour- 
hood. On one occasion they took him to the sea-girt 
rock, called Eileirig, and after diverting themselves 


with him for an hour or two took him home again. 
So he said himself. 

A man who went to fish on Saturday afternoon at a 
rock in Kinnavara hill {Beinn Chinn-a-Bharra), the 
extreme west point of Tiree, did not make his appear- 
ance at home until six o'clock the following morning. 
He said that after leaving the rock the evening before, 
he remembered nothing but passing a number of 
beaches. The white beaches of Tiree, from the sur- 
rounding land being a dead level, are at night the most 
noticeable features in the scenery. On coming to his 
senses, he found himself on the top 1, of the Dim at 
Caolis in the extreme east end of the island, twelve 
miles from his starting point. 

A few years ago, a man in Lismore, travelling at 
night with a web of cloth on his shoulder, lost his way, 
walked on all night without knowing where he was 
going, and in the morning was found among rocks, 
where he could never have made his way alone. He 
could give no account of himself, and his wanderings 
were universally ascribed to the Fairies. 

Red Donald of the Fairies i^Domhnull ruadh nan 
sithekean), as he was called (and the name stuck to him 
all his life), used when a boy to see the Fairies. Being 
herd at the Spital {an Spideal) above Dalnacardoch in 
Perthshire, he was taken by them to his father's house 
at Ardlaraich in Rannoch, a distance of a dozen miles, 
through the night. In the morning he was found 


sitting at the fireside, and as the door was barred, he 
must have been let in by the chimney. 

An old man in Achabeg, Morvern, went one 
night on a gossiping visit {cHlidh) to a neighbour's 
house. It was winter time, and a river near the place 
was in flood, which, in the case of a mountain torrent, 
means that it was impassable. The old man did not 
return home that night, and next morning was found 
near the shi-en oi Luran na leaghadk in Sasory, some 
distance across the river. He could give no account of 
how he got there, only that when on his way home a 
storm came about him, and on coming to himself he 
was where they had found him. 

When Dr. M'Laurin was tenant of Invererragan, 
near Connal Ferry in Benderloch, at the end of last 
century, " Calum Clever',' who derived his name from 
his skill in singing tunes and expedition in travelling 
(gifts given him by the Fairies), stayed with him whole 
nights. The doctor sent him to Fort William with a 
letter, telling him to procure the assistance of "his own 
people" and be back with an immediate answer. 
Calum asked as much time as one game at shinty 
{aon taghal air a bhalP) would take, and was back 
in the evening before the game was finished. He 
never could have travelled the distance without Fairy 



Ewen, son' of Allister Og, was shepherd in the Dell 
of Banks {Coira BhaeaidK), at the south end of Loch 
Ericht (yLoch Eireachd), d.x\d stayed alone in a. bothy far 
away from other houses. In the evenings he put the 
porridge for his supper out to cool on the top of the 
double wall ianainn) of the hut. On successive even- 
ings he found it pitted and pecked all round on the 
margin, as if by little birds or heavy rain-drops. He 
watched, and saw little people coming and pecking at 
his porridge. He made- little dishes and spoons of 
wood, and. left them beside his own dish. The Fairies, 
understanding his meaning, took to using these, and let 
the big dish alone. At last they became quite familiar 
with Ewen, entered the hut, and stayed whole evenings 
with him. One evening a woman came with them. 
There was no dish for her, and she sat on the other 
side of the house, saying never a word, but grinning 
and making faces at the shepherd whenever he looked 
her way. Ewen at last asked her, " Are you always 
like that, my lively maid?"^ Owing to the absurdity 
of the question, or Ewen's. failure to understand that 
the grinning was a hint for food, the Fairies never 
came again. 

The Elves came to a house at night, and finding it 

' Am bi thu mar sin daonnan, a bhuineagag ? 


closed, called upon 'Feet-water' {uisge nan cas) i.e., 
water in which the feet had been washed, to come 
and open the door. The water answered from some- 
where near, that it could not, as it had been poured 
out. They called on the Band of the Spinning 
Wheel to open the door, but it answered it could 
not, as it had been thrown off the wheel. They 
called upon Little Cake, but it could not move, 
as there was a hole through it and a live coal on 
the top of it. They called upon the ' raking ' coal 
{smdladh an teine), but the fire had been secured in 
a proper manner, to keep it alive all night. This 
is a tale not localized anywhere, but universally 

A man observed a band of people dressed in green 
coming toward the house, and recognising them to be 
Fairies, ran in great terror, shut and barred the door, 
and hid himself below the bed. The Fairies, however, 
came through the keyhole, and danced on the floor, 
singing. The song extended to several verses, to the 
effect that no kind of house could keep out the Fairies, 
not a turf house {tigh phloc), nor a stone house {tigh 
doicke), etc. 

The Fairies staying in Dunruilg came to assist a 
farmer in the vicinity in weaving and preparing cloth, 
and, after finishing the work in a wonderfully short 
space of time, called for more work. To get rid of 
his officious assistants, the farmer called outside the 


door that Dunvuilg was on fire.^ The Fairies immed- 
iately rushed out in great haste, and never came back. 
Of this story several versions are given in the Tales 
of the West Highlands (ii. 52-4). In some form or 
other it is extensively known, and in every locality the 
scene is laid in its own neighbourhood. In Mull the 
Fairy residence is said to have been the bold headland 
in the south-west of the island known as Tun Bhuirg. 
Some say the Elves were brought to the house by two 
old women, who were tired spinning, and incautiously 
said they wished all the people in T6n Bhuirg were 
there to assist. According to others, the Elves were 
in the habit of coming to Tipull House in the Ross 
of Mull, and their excessive zeal made them very 
unwelcome. In Skye the event is said to have occurred 
at Dun Bhuirbh. There are two places of the name, 
one in Lyndale, and one in Beinn-an-inne, near Druiin- 
uighe, above Portree. The rhyme they had when they 
came to Tapull is known as " The rhyme of the good- 
man of Tapull's servants" {Rann gillean fir Thdbuill.) 

" Let me comb, card, tease, spin, 
Get a weaving loom quick. 
Water for fulling on the fire. 
Work, work, work."^ 

' The man in Flodigarry got rid of his Fairy assistants by telling them 
to bale out the sea. 

- Ciream, cardam, tlamam, cuigealam, 
Beairt fhighe gu luath, 
'S birn luadh air teine, 
Obair, obair, obair. 


The cry they raised when going away, in the Skye 

version, runs : 

" Dunsuirv on fire. 
Without dog or man. 
My balls of thread 
And my bags of meal."' 

A man, on the farm of Kennovay in Tiree, saw 
the Fairies about twelve o'clock at night enter the 
house, glide round the room, and go out again. They 
said and did nothing. 


The ' people ' had several dwellings near the village 
of Largs 2 {Na Leargun Gallta, the slopes-near- the- 
sea of the strangers), on the coast of Ayrshire (see 
Introduction to Campbell's Tales of the West High- 

Knock Hill was full of elves, and the site of the 
old Tron Tree, now the centre of the village, was a 
favourite haUnt. A sow, belonging to the man who 
cut down the Tron Tree, was found dead in the byre 
next morning. A hawker, with a basket of crockery, 
was met near the Noddle Burn by a Fairy woman. 
She asked him for a bowl she pointed out in his 

' Dun-Bhuirbh ri theine 
Gun chu, gun duine. 
Mo chearslagan snath 
'S mo phocanan mine. 

'^The natives pre.serve the true name of the place when they call it 
" The Lairgs. " 


basket, but he refused to give it. On coming to the 
top of a brae near the village, his basket tumbled, and 
all his dishes rah on edge to the foot of the incline. 
None were broken but the one which had been refused 
to the Fairy. It was found in fragments. The same 
day, however, the hawker found a treasure that made 
up for his loss. That, said the person from whom the 
story was heard, was the custom of the Fairies ; they 
never took anything without making up for it some 
other way. 

On market-days they went about stealing here and 
there a little of the wool or yarn exposed for sale. 
A present of shoes and stockings made them give great 
assistance at out-door work. A man was taken by 
them to a pump near the Haylee Toll, where he danced 
all night with them. A headless man was one of the 

They often came to people's houses at night, and 
were heard washing their children. If they found no 
water in the house, they washed them in kit, or sowen 
water. They were fond of spinning and weaving, and, 
if chid or thwarted, cut the weaver's webs at night. 
They one night dropped a child's cap, a very pretty 
article, in a weaver's house, to which they had come to 
get the child washed. They, however, took it away 
the following night. 

In another instance, a band of four was heard 
crossing over the bedclothes, two women going first 


and laughing, and two men following and expressing 
their wonder if the women were far before them. 

A man cut a slip from an ash-tree growing near a 
Fairj' dwelling. On his way home in the evening he 
stumbled and fell. He heard the Fairies give a laugh 
at his mishap. Through the night he was hoisted 
away, and could tell nothing of what happened till in 
the morning he found himself in the byre, astride on a 
cow, and holding on by its horns. 

These are genuine popular tales of the South of 
Scotland, which the writer fell in with in Largs. He 
heard them from a servant girl, a native of the place. 
They are quoted as illustrations of the vitality of the 
creed. They are not stories of the Highlands, but are 
quite analogous. The student of such mythologies 
will recognize in them a semblance to the Fairy tales 
of the North of Ireland. 

The machair (or links) adjoining the hill of Kenna- 
varra, the extreme south-west point of Tiree, is after 
sunset one of the most solitary and weird places con- 
ceivable. The hill on its northern side, facing the 
Skerryvore lighthouse, twelve miles off, consists of 
precipices, descending sheer down for upwards of a 
hundred feet, with frightful chasms, where countless 
sea-birds make their nests, and at the base of which 
the Atlantic rolls with an incessant noise, which be- 


comes deafening in bad weather. The hill juts into 
the sea, and the coast, from each side of its inner end, 
trends away in beaches, which, like all the beaches in 
the island, have, after nightfall, from their whiteness and 
loneliness, a strange and ghostly look. On the land- 
ward side, the level country stretches in a low dark 
line towards the horizon ; little is to be seen and the 
stillness is unbroken, save by the sound of the surf 
rolling on the beach and thundering in the chasms of 
the hill. It is not, therefore, wonderful that these links 
should be haunted by the Fairies, or the timid wayfarer 
there meet the big black Elfin dog prowling among 
the sand-banks, hear its unearthly baying in the stormy 
night-wind, and in the uncertain light and the squatter- 
ing of wildfowl, hear in wintry pools the Banshi washing 
the garments of those soon to die. 

Some seventy or eighty years ago the herdsman 
who had charge of the cattle on this pasture, went to 
a marriage in the neighbouring village of Balephuill 
(mud-town), leaving his mother and a young child 
alone in the house. The night was wild and stormy ; 
there was heavy rain, and every pool and stream was 
more than ordinarily swollen. His mother sat waiting 
his return, and two women, whom she knew to be 
Fairies, came to steal the child. They stood between 
the outer and inner doors and were so tall their heads 
appeared above the partition beam. One was taller 
than the other. They were accompanied by a dog. 


and stood one on each side, having a hold of an ear 
and scratching it. Some say there was a crowd of 
' little people ' behind to assist in taking the child away. 
For security the woman placed it between herself and 
the fire, but her precautions were not quite successful. 
From that night the child was slightly fatuous, ,' a half 
idiot ' {leth oinseacJi). The old woman, it is said, had 
the second sight. 

A shepherd, living with his wife in a bothy far away 
among the hills of Mull, had an addition to his family. 
He was obliged to go for assistance to the nearest 
houses, and his wife asked him, before leaving her and 
her babe alone, to place the table beside the bed, and 
a portion of the various kinds of food in the house on 
it, and also to put the smoothing-iron below the front 
of the bed and the reaping-hook (buanaiche) in the 
window. Soon after he had left the wife heard a 
suppressed muttering on the floor and a voice urging 
some one to go up and steal the child. The other 
answered that butter from the cow that ate the pearl- 
wort iinothan) was on the table, that iron was below 
the bed, and the ' reaper ' in the window, how could he 
get the child away ? As the reward of his wife's 
providence and good sense the shepherd found herself 
and child safe on his return. 

A man in Morvern, known by the nickname of the 
' Marquis ' {a mor'aire), left a band of women watching 
his wife and infant child. On returning at night, he 


found the fire gone out, and the women fast asleep. 
By the time he had rekindled the fire he saw a Banshi 
entering and making for the bed where his wife and 
child were. He took a faggot from the fire and threw 
it at her. A flame gleamed about his eyes and he saw 
the Fairy woman no more. His wife declared that she 
felt at the time like one in a nightmare {trom-a-lidhe) ; 
she heard voices calling upon her to go out, and felt an 
irresistible inclination to obey. 

A woman from Rahoy {Ra-thuaitK) on Loch Sunart- 
side was taken with her babe to Ben ladain (Beinn 
ladain), a lofty hill in the parish of Morvern, rising to 
a height of above 2000 feet, and at one time of great 
note as an abode of the Fairies. Her husband had 
laid himself down for a few minutes' rest in the front of 
the bed, and fallen asleep. When he awoke his wife 
and child were gone. They were taken, the woman 
afterwards told, to the ' Black Door ' {a chhnihla dhu), 
as the spot forming the Fairy entrance into the interior 
of the mountain is called. On entering, they found 
a large company of men, women, and children. A fair- 
haired boy among them came and warned the woman 
not to eat any food the Fairies might offer, but to 
hide it in her clothes. He said they had got his own 
mother to eat this food, and in consequence he could 
not now get her away. Finding the food offered her 
was slighted, the head Fairy sent off a party to bring 
a certain man's cow. They came back saying they 


could not touch the cow as its right knee was resting 

on the plant bruchorcan (dirk grass). They were sent 

for another cow, but they came back saying they 

could not touch it either, as the dairymaid, after 

milking it, had struck it with the shackle or 

cow-spancel {burach ). That same night the woman 

appeared to her husband in his dreams, telling him 

where she was, and that by going for her and taking 

the black silk handkerchief she wore on her marriage 

day, with three knots tied upon it, he might recover 

her. He tied the knots, took the handkerchief and 

a friend with him, entered the hill at the Black Door, 

and recovered his wife and child. The white-headed 

boy accompanied them for some distance from the 

Black Door, but returned to the hill, and is there still 

in all probability. 

Another wife was taken from the neighbourhood of 

Castle Lionnaig, near Loch Aline [Loch Aluinn, the 

pretty loch), in the same parish, to the same hill. She 

was placed in the lap of a gigantic hag, who told 

her it was useless to attempt escaping ; her arms would 

close round her 

" As the ivy to the rock, 

And as the honeysuckle to the tree ; 

As the flesh round the bone. 

And as the bone round the marrow." ^ 

^ " Mar an eidheann ris a chreig 

'S mar an iadh-shlat ris an fhiodh, 
Mar an fheJ)il mun chnaimh 
'S mar an cnaimh mun smior.'' 


The woman answered that she wished it was an 
armful of dirt the Fairy held. In saying so, she 
made use of a very coarse, unseemly word, and, as no 
such language is tolerated among the Fairies, the big 
woman called to take the vile wretch away, and leave 
her in the hollow in which she had been found, {an lag 
san d' fhuaradh i) which was done. 

A man in Balemartin, on the south side of Tiree 
{air an leige deas), whose wife had died in childbed, 
was sitting one night soon after with a bunch of keys 
in his hands. He saw his wife passing and repassing 
him several times. The following night she came to 
him in his dreams, and reproached him for not having 
thrown the bunch of keys at her, or between her and 
the door, to keep the Fairies from taking her back 
with them. He asked her to come another night, but 
she said she could not, as the company she was with 
was removing that night to another brugh far away. 

Another, somewhere on the mainland of Argyllshire, 
suspecting his wife had been stolen by Fairies, hauled 
her by the legs from bed, through the fire, and out at 
the door. She there became a log of wood, and serves 
as the threshold of a barn in the place to this day. 

A woman, taken by the Fairies, was seen by a man, 
who looked in at the door of a brugh, spinning and 
singing at her work. 

A wife, taken in childbed, came to her husband in 
his sleep, and told him that, by drawing a furrow 


thrice round a certain hillock sunwise {deiseal) with 
the plough, he might recover her. He consulted his 
neighbours, and in the end it was deemed as well not 
to attend to a dream of one's sleep {bruadar cadait). 
He consequently did not draw the furrow, and never 
recovered his wife. 

A child was taken by the Fairies from KilHchrenan 
iCill-a-Chreunain), near Loch Awe, to the sh'i'-en in 
Nant Wood {CoiW an Eannd). It was got back by the 
father drawing a furrow round the hillock with the plough. 
H,e had not gone far when he heard a cry behind him, 
and on looking back found his child lying in the furrow. 

A trampling as of a troop of horses came round a 

house, in which a woman lay in childbed, and she 

and the child were taken away. At the end of seven 

years her sister came upon an open Fairy hillock, and 

thoughtlessly entered. She saw there her lost sister, 

with a child in her arms, and was warned by her, in 

the lullaby song to the child, to slip away out again. 

" Little sister, little loving sister, 
Rememberest thou the night of the horses ? 
Seven years since I was taken, 
And one like me was never seen, 
lalai horro, horro, 
lalai horro hi." ' 

^ " A phiuthrag, 's a phiuthrag chaidreach, 
An cuimhne leal oidhche nan capull ? 
Seachd bliadhn' on thugadh as mi, 
'S bean mo choltais riamh cha-n fhacas, 

lalai horro, horro, 

lalai horro hi," 



A Fairy woman came to take away a child, and 
said to its mother, " Grey is your child." " Grey is 
the grass, and it grows," was the ready answer. 
" Heavy is your child," said the Banshi. " Heavy is 
each fruitful thing," the mother replied. " Light is 
your child," said the Banshi. " Light is each happy 
worldly one," said the mother, bursting into singing 
and saying — 

" Grey is the foliage, grey the flowers. 
And grey the axe that has a handle, 
And nought comes through the earth, 
But has some greyness in its nature." ^ 

On finding herself outwitted the Banshi left. 

A boy, a mere child, was left alone for a few minutes, 
in the islet of Soa, near Tiree. The mother was 
making kelp there at the time, and in her absence the 
Fairies came and gave the child's legs such a twist that 
it was lame {liiigacJi) ever after. 

' " Is glas do leanamh." " Is glas am fiar 's fasaidh e." " Is trom do 
leanamh." "Is trom gach torrach." "Is eutrom do leanamh." *' Is 
eutrom gach saoghaltach sona." 

" Is glas an duilleach 's glas am feur, 
'S glas an tuadh am bheil a chas, 
'S chaneil ni thig roimh thalamh, 
Nach eil gne ghlaise na aoraibh." 
The first two lines of this quatrain occur also in a song on the deceit, 
fulness of women, by a young man, whose first love had forsaken him. 
She " killed him with a stony stare," and merely asked, " whence comes 
the sallow stripling ? " (Co ar tha'n corra-ghille glas '! ") 



The Elves sometimes took care of neglected children. 
The herd who tendered the Baile-phuill cattle on Hey- 
nist Hill sat down one day on a green eminence {cnoc) 
in the hill, which had the reputation of being tenanted 
by the Fairies. His son, a young child, was along with 
him. He fell asleep, and when he awoke the child 
was away. He roused himself, and vowed aloud, that 
unless his boy was restored he would not leave a stone 
or clod of the hillock together. A voice from under- 
ground answered that the child was safe at home with 
its mother, and they (the ' people ') had taken it lest it 
should come to harm with the cold. 

THE bridegroom's BURIAL. 

A young woman in Islay was promised in marriage 
to a rich neighbour, and the marriage day was fixed. 
She had a sweetheart who, on hearing this, said to a 
brother older than himself that if he had means to keep 
a wedding feast he would run away with the bride. 
His brother promised him all he had, being thirty-five 
gallons of whisky. On getting this, the young man 
took the bride away, and gave a nuptial feast himself 
that lasted a month. At the end of that time, when 
he was taking a walk with his wife, an eddy wind was 
seen coming. As it passed the young man was seized 
with sickness, which in a short time ended in his death. 


Before his death his wife said to him, " If the dead 
have feehng, I ordain that you be not a night absent 
from your bed." ^ The night after the funeral he came 
back, to the consternation of his wife. He told her not 
to be alarmed, that he was still sound and healthy 
{slan fallain), that he had only been taken in the eddy 
by the Lady of the Green Island {Baintigkearna 'n 
Eilein Uaiue), and that by throwing a dirk at the eddy 
wind, when next she encountered it, she would get him 
back again. The wife threw a dirk at the next eddy 
wind she saw, and her husband dropped at her feet. 
He told he had been with the light people {sluagh 
eutrom), and in the tomb in which they supposed him 
buried would be found only a log of alder wood {inaide 
fearna). His wife's relatives were sent for, and they 
came, thinking the young widow had lost her wits 
through grief The grave was opened, and an alder 
stick found in the coffin instead of the body proved the 
husband's account of his disappearance. 


A woman in Islay (the story was heard in Tiree) 
was taken by the Fairies, leaving an infant who was 
baptised by the name of Julia {Sile). To appearance 
the mother died and was buried. Every night, how- 
ever, she came back, and was heard singing to her 
child. Her husband watched one night and caught 

^ Ma tha tur aig marbh, nach bi thu oidhche dhith do leabaidh. 


her. She told that by going to a hillock, which she 
named, on a certain night he might recover her. He 
went, taking with him, according to her instructions, a 
black cock born in the busy time of year {coileach 
du mdrff and a piece of steel {cruaidk). He found 
the door of the brugh open, put steel in one of the 
posts, entered, having the cock in his arms, and hid 
himself in a corner. Towards morning the cock crew. 
The head or principal Fairy caused a search to be 
made, and ' Big Martin without clemency or mercy ' 
(Martuinn Mhr gun iochd gun trbcair) was found in the 
brugh. On withdrawing the steel he was allowed to 
go home, and his wife along with him. 


A weaver at the Bridge of Awe {Drochaid Athd) 
was left a widower with three or four children. He 
laboured at his trade all day, and when the evening 
came, being a hard-working, industrious man, did odd 
jobs about the house to maintain his helpless family. 
One clear moonlight, when thatching his house with 
fern {ranack), he heard the rushing sound of a high 
wind, and a multitude of little people settled on the 
housetop and on the ground, like a flock of black 
starlings. He was told he must go along with them to 

' My informant could not say whether this was seed-time (mart cur an 
t-sil) or harvest [mdri buain) probably the former (cf. Campbell's IVest 
Highland Tales, ii., p. 98). 


Glen Cannel in Mull, where they were going for a 
woman. He refused to go unless he got whatever was 
foraged on the expedition to himself. On arriving at 
Glen Cannel, the arrow was given him to throw. 
Pretending to aim at the woman he threw it through 
the window and killed a pet lamb. The animal at 
once cam.e out through the window, but he was told 
this would not do, he must throw again. He did so, 
and the woman was taken away and a log of alder- 
wood {stoc fearnd) was left in her place. The weaver 
claimed his agreement, and the Fairies left the woman 
with him at the Bridge of Awe, saying they would 
never again make the same paction with any man. 
She lived happily with him and he had three children 
by her. A beggar came the way and staid with him 
that night. The whole evening the beggar stared at 
the wife in a manner that made his host at last ask 
him what he meant. He said he had at one time been 
a farmer in Glen Cannel in Mull, comfortable and well- 
to-do, but his wife having died, he had since fallen into 
poverty, till he was now a beggar, and that the weaver's 
wife could be no other than the wife he had lost. 
Explanations were entered into, and the beggar got his 
choice of the wife or the children. He chose the 
former,^ and again became prosperous in the world. 

^ It may interest the reader that the man (a shrewd enough person in 
ordinary life) from whom this story was heard, adduced it as proof of the 
existence of Fairies, of which he said there could be no doubt ; he had 
heard the story from his father, who knew the weaver. 


" MacCallum of the Humming Noise " {Mac Challum 
a Chrbnain), who resided in Glen Etive subsequent 
to the '45, was the last to observe the habits of 
the Fairies and ancient hunters. He ate three days' 
allowance of food before setting out on his hunting 
expeditions, and when he got hungry merely tightened 
his belt another hole. The Indians of Labrador are said 
to do the same at the present day. These hunters can go 
for nine days without food, merely tightening their belts 
as they get thin. In MacCallum's time, a woman was for 
seven years observed among the deer of Ben Cruachan, 
as swift of foot and action as the herd with which she 
consorted. A gathering was made to catch her. The 
herd was surrounded by men and dogs, and on her 
being caught, she was taken to Balinoe, where MacCallum 
resided. There were rings on her fingers, from which 
it was ascertained that she came from France. In- 
quiries were made, and she was sent home by a ship 
from Greenock. She had been taken away in childbed 
doubtless by the Fairies. This story was believed by 
the person from whom it was heard. He had heard it 
from good authority, he said. 

A young lad was sent for the loan of a corn 
sieve to a neighbour's house. He was a changeling, 
and in the house to which he went there was another 


like himself. He found no one in but his fellow-elf. A 
woman, in a closet close by, overheard the conversation 
of the two. The first asked for the sieve, and the other 
replied, " Ask it in an honest way (that is, in Fairy lan- 
guage) seeing I am alone."'' The first then said (and 
his words have as much sense in English as in Gaelic) : 

" The muggle maggle 
Wants the loan of the black luggle laggle, 
To take the maggle from the grain. "^ 

The words are a ludicrous imitation of the sound 
made by the fan in winnowing corn, and several 
versions of them exist. 

A child, in Skye, ate such a quantity of food, 
people suspected it could not be ' canny.' A man of 
skill was sent for, and on his saying a rhyme over it, 
the changeling became an old man. 

A changeling in Hianish (some say Sanndaig), 

Tiree, was driven away by a man of skill who came, 

and, standing in the door, said : 

" Red pig, red pig, 
Red one-eared pig, 
That Fin killed with the son of Luin, 
And took on his back to Druim-derg."^ 

^ larr air choir e, 's gun agam ach mi fhln. 
^ Dh'iarr a mhugaill a mhagaill 
lased an du-lugaill lagaill 

Thoirt a mhagaill as an t-si61. 
' " Muc dhearg, muc dhearg, 
Muc leth-chluasach dhearg, 
Mharbh Fionn le Mac-a-Luin, 
'S a thug e air a mhuin gu Druim-dearg." 


Drim-derg, or the Red Ridge, is a common in the 
neighbourhood of Hianish. Fin's sword, ' the son of 
Luin,' was of such superior metal that it cut through 
six feet of whatever substance was struck by it, and an 
inch beyond. Its peculiar virtue was " never to leave a 
remnant from its blow." When the changeling heard 
the bare mention of it, with the aversion of his race to 
steel, he jumped, like a fish out of the water (thug e 
iasg-leuin as), rushed out of the house and was never 
seen again. The real child was found outside the 

A woman was told by her neighbours that her child, 
which was not thriving, was a changeling, and that she 
ought to throw it in the river. The imp, frightened bj' 
the counsel, advised the contrary in an expression, 
which is now proverbial, " Whether it be fat or lean, 
every man should rear a calf for himself" (Atr dha bhi 
reamhar na caol, is rnairg nach beathaicheadh laogh 
dha fhtifi). 

A farmer had two good cows that were seized one 
spring with some unaccountable malady. They ate 
any amount of food given them, but neither grew fat 
nor yielded milk. They lay on their sides and could 
not be made to rise. An old man in the neighbour- 
hood advised that they should be hauled up the hill, 
and rolled down its steepest and longest incline. The 


brutes, he said, were not the farmer's cows at all,, 
but two old men ibodaicK) the Fairies had substituted 
for them. The farmer acted on this advice, and at 
the bottom of the descent, down which the cows were 
sent rolling, nothing was found, neither cow nor man, 
either dead or alive. 

There are old people still living in lona who 
remember a man driving a nail into a bull that had 
fallen over a rock, to keep away the Fairies. 

A man in Ruaig, Tiree, possessed of the second sight, 
saw a wether sheep {molt) belonging to himself whirled 
through the sky, and was so satisfied the Fairies had 
taken it in their eddy wind, that he did not, when. 
the animal was killed, eat any of its mutton. 

An old man kept a green hillock, near his house, 
on which he frequently reclined in summer, very clean, 
sweeping away any filth or cow or horse droppings he 
might find on it. One evening, as he sat on the 
hillock, a little man, a stranger to him, came and 
thanked him for his care of the hillock, and added, 
that if at any time the village cattle should leave their 
enclosure during the night, he and his friends would 
show their gratitude by keeping them from the old 
man's crops. The village in these days was in common, 
ridge about, and the Fairy promise, being tested, was 
found good. 


Of hills having the reputation of being tenanted 
by Fairies may be mentioned Schiehallion {Sith-ckail- 
lionn), in Perthshire, and Ben-y-ghloe {Beinn a Ghlothd) ; 
and in Argyllshire, Stthein na Rapaich, ' the Fairy 
dwelling of tempestuous weather,' in Morven and 
Dunniquoich (/??/« Cuaich, the Bowl-shaped hill) Dun- 
deacainn and Shien-sloy (sithein sluaigh, the multitude's 
residence), near Inverary. The three latter hills are 
in sight of each other, and the preference of the Fairies 
for the last is mentioned in a popular rhyme : 
Dun-deacainn is Duti-cuaich 

Sithein sluaigh is Airde-slios ; 
Nam faighinnsa mo roghainn de 'n triiiir 
B'e mo rim a bhi san t-slios. 

At the head of Glen-Erochty {Gleann-Eireockd-aidh, 
the Shapely glen), in Athol, in Perthshire, there is a 
mound known as Cam na Sleabkack, which at one 
time was of much repute as a Fairy haunt. Alasdair 
Challum, a poor harmless person, who went about the 
country making divinations for his entertainers by 
means of a small four-sided spinning top {dbduman), 
was asked by a widow where her late husband now 
was. Allistir spun round his teetotum and, examining 
it attentively, said, " He is a baggage horse to the 
Fairies in Slevach Cairn, with a twisted willow withe in 
his mouth." ^ 

' Tha e na each bagais aig na slthchean an cam na Sleabhach, agus gad 
seillich na bhialthaobh. 

Alasdair used to say the men of the present day were very small 
compared to their ancestors, and to prophecy with his teetotum, they 


A native of the Island of Coll went to pull some 
wild-briar plants {fearra-dhris). He tried to pull 
one growing in the face of a rock. The first tug 
he gave he heard some one calling to him from 
the inside of the rock, and he ran away without ever 
looking behind. To this day he says no one need try 
to persuade him there are no Fairies, for he heard 
them himself 

A shepherd at Lochaweside, coming home with a 
wedder sheep on his back, saw an open cave in the 
face of a rock where he had never noticed a cave 
before. He laid down his burden, and stepping over 
to the entrance of the cave, stuck his knife into a 
fissure of the rock forming a side of the entrance. 
He then leisurely looked in, and saw the cave full of 
guns and arms and chests studied with brass nails, 
but no appearance of tenants. Happening to turn his 
head for a moment to look at the sheep, and seeing 
it about to move off, he allowed the knife to move 
from its place. On looking again at the rock, he only 
saw water trickling from the fissure from which the 
knife had been withdrawn. 

A person who had a green knoll in front of his 
house and was in the habit of throwing out dirty 
water at the door, was told by the Fairies to remove 
the door to the other side of the house, as the water 

would continue growing smaller and smaller, till at last it would take 
six of them to pull a wisp of hay. 


was spoiling their furniture and utensils. He did this, 
and he and the Fairies lived on good terms ever after. 

In the evening a man was tethering his horse on 
a grassy mound. A head appeared out of the ground, 
and told him to drive his tether pin somewhere else, 
as he was letting the rain into their house, and had 
nearly killed one of the inmates by driving the peg 
into his ear. 

Beinn Feall is one of the most prominent hills in 
the Island of Coll. It is highly esteemed for the 
excellence of its pasture, and was of old much fre- 
quented by the Fairies. A fisherman going to his 
occupation at night saw it covered with green silk, spread 
out to dry, and heard all night the sound of a quern 
at work in the interior. On another occasion, similar 
sounds were heard in the same hill, and voices singing: 
" Though good the haven we left, 
Seven times better the haven we found." ' 

A man who avoided tethering horse or cow on a 
Fairy hillock near his house, or in any way breaking 
the green sward that covered it, was rewarded by the 
Fairies driving his horse and cow to the lee of the 
hillock in stormy nights. 

A man in Flodigarry, an islet near Skye, expressed 
a wish his corn were reaped, though it should be by 

^ " Ged bu mhath an cala dh'fhag sinn, 
Seachd fearr an cala fhuais sinn." 


Fairy assistance. The Fairies came and reaped the 
field in two nights. They were seen at work, seven 
score and fifteen, or other large number. After 
reaping the field they called for more work, and the 
man set them to empty the sea. 

One of the chiefs of Dowart was hurried with his 
harvest, and likely to lose his crop for want of shearers. 
He sent word through all Mull for assistance. A little 
old man came and offered himself He asked as wages 
only the full of a straw-rope he had with him of corn 
when the work was over. M'Lean formed no high 
opinion of the little man, but as the work was urgent 
and the remuneration trifling, he engaged his services. 
He placed him along with another old man and an old 
woman on a ridge by themselves, and told them never 
to heed though they should be behind the rest, to take 
matters easy and not fatigue themselves. The little 
man, however, soon made his assistants leave the way, 
and set them to make sheaf-bands. He finished 
shearing that ridge before the rest of the shearers were 
half-way with theirs, and no fault could be found with 
the manner in which the work was done. M'Lean 
would not part with the little reaper till the end of 
harvest. Fuller payment was offered for his excellent 
services, but he refused to take more than had been 
bargained for. He began putting the corn in the rope, 
and put in all that was in the field, then all that was in 
the stackyard, and finally all that was in the barn. He 


said this would do just now, tightened the rope, and 
Hfted the burden on his back. He was setting off with 
it, when M'Lean, in despair, cried out, " Tuesday I 
ploughed, Tuesday I sowed, Tuesday I reaped ; Thou 
who did'st ordain the three Tuesdays, suffer not all 
that is in the rope to leave me." " The hand of your 
father and grandfather be upon you ! " said the little 
man, " it is well that you spoke." ^ 

Another version of the tale was current in Morvern. 
A servant, engaged in spring by a man who lived 
at Aodienn Mhr (' Big Face ') in Liddesdale, when 
told to begin ploughing, merely thrust a walking-stick 
into the ground, and, holding it to his nose, said the 
earth was not yet ready {cha robh an talamh air ddir 
fathast). This went on till the neighbours were 
more than half-finished with their spring work. His 
master then peremptorily ordered the work to be done. 
By next morning the whole Big Face was ploughed, 
sown, and harrowed. The shearing of the crop was 
done in the same mysterious and expeditious manner. 
The servant had the Association-craft, which secured 
the assistance of the Fairies. When getting his wages 
he was like to take away the whole crop, and was got 
rid of as in the previous version. 

An old man in Cornaig, Tiree, went to sow his croft, 

^ " M^rt a threabh mi, mart a chuir mi, mart a bhuain mi ; Fhir a 
dh'6rduich na trl mairt, na leig na bheil san r6p' uamsa." " Limh t'athar 
's do sheanar ort, bha feum agad labhairt." 


or piece of land. He was scarce of seed oats, but 
putting the little he had in a circular dish made of 
plaited straw, called plddar, suspended from his shoulder 
by a strap {iris), commenced operations. His son fol- 
lowed, harrowing the seed. The old man went on 
sowing long after the son expected the seed corn was 
exhausted. He made some remark expressive of his 
wonder, and the old man said, " Evil befall you, why 
did you speak ? I might have finished the field if 
you had held your tongue, but now I cannot go 
further," and he stopped. The piece sown would 
properly take four times as much seed as had been 

A man in the Ross of Mull, about to sow his land, 
filled a sheet with seed oats, and commenced. He 
went on sowing, but the sheet remained full. At 
last a neighbour took notice of the strange pheno- 
menon, and said, " The face of your evil and iniquity 
be upon you, is the sheet never to be empty ? " When 
this was said a little brown bird leapt out of the sheet, 
and the supply of corn ceased. The bird was called 
Tore Sana, i.e. ' Happy Hog,' and when any of the 
man's descendants fall in with any luck they are asked 
if the Tore Sana still follows the family. 

A man in the Braes of Portree, in Skye, with a large 
but weak family, had his spring and harvest work done 
by the Fairies. No one could tell how it was done, 
but somehow it was finished as soon as that of any of 


his neighbours. All his family, however, grew up 
'peculiar in their minds.' 

On 5th August, 1598, one of the bloodiest battles 
in the annals of clan feuds was fought at the head of 
Loch Gruinard, in Islay, between Sir Lachlan Mor 
M'Lean, of Dowart, and Sir James Macdonald, of Islay, 
for possession of lands forfeited by the latter's uncle, 
of which the former had received a grant. Of the 
M'Leans, Sir Lachlan and 80 of his near kinsmen and 
200 clansmen were killed ; and of the Macdonalds, 
30 were killed, and 60 wounded.^ According to 
tradition, a trifling looking little man came to Sir 
Lachlan, and offered his services for the battle. The 
chief, who was himself of giant frame and strength, 
answered contemptuously, he did not care which side 
the little man might be on. The Elf then offered him- 
self to Macdonald, who said he would be glad of the 
assistance of a hundred like him. All day Sir Lachlan, 
who was clothed from head to foot in armour of steel, 
was followed by the little man, and on his once lifting 
the vizor of his helmet an arrow struck him in the fore- 
head at the division of the hair, and came out at the 
back of his head. It proved to be one of those arrows 
known as Elf-bolts. Macdonald was sorry for the 
death of his rival, and after the battle made enquiry as 

' Gregory's West Highlands and Islands, p. 285. 


to who had killed him. " It was I " said the little man, 
" who killed your enemy ; and unless I had done so he 
would have killed you." " What is your name ? " 
asked Macdonald. "I am called" he said, '' Du-sith" 
{i.e. Black Elf),^ " and you were better to have me with 
you than against you." 


A wright in the island of Mull, on his way home in 
the evening from work, got enveloped in a mist. He 
heard some one coming towards him whistling. He 
entered into talk with the stranger, and was told, 
a legacy would be left him, and would continue in the 
line of his direct descendants to the third generation. 
His grandson is unmarried, and well advanced in years; 
to the credit of the whistler's prophecy. 

Davie, a south country ploughman, or grieve, was 
brought to Tiree, about the beginning of the present 
century, by the then Chamberlain or ' Baillie ' of the 

^ Tradition is pretty uniform that Sir Lachlan was killed by the arrow of 
a little man, and the above is probably only a superstitious version of the 
real circumstances. The story of powerful warriors, however, struck in the 
forehead Vjy the arrows of little men, like the stories of Tell and the apple, 
and Alfred and the cakes, is told of too many persons to be above the 
suspicion of being a popular myth. 

Tlie natives of one of the villages in Tiree are known by the nickname of 
"Clann Du-shith" and "Sithbheirean." The assertion that Du-sith was 
the ancient name of Duncan is incorrect, as one of those from whom the 
village nickname was derived was called Donnchadh mor mac Dhu-shith. 
The little man, who killed Lachunn Mor is also known as an t-ochdarann 
iodaich, the eighth part measure of a carle. 


Island. Ploughing one day on Crossapol farm, he saw 
before him in the furrow a very little man. Not 
understanding that the diminutive creature was a Fairy, 
Davie cried out in broken Gaelic, " What little man are 
you ? Get out of that." 

A former gardener in Tlr Mhine (Meal Land) in 
Glenorchy, a good deal given to drinking, was crossing 
Loch Awe one night in a boat alone. He saw a little 
man sitting in the stern of the boat, and spoke to him 
several times but received no answer. He at last 
struck at the little man, and himself tumbled overboard. 
Now, asked the old woman, who told this story, what 
could the little man be, but a brughadair {i.e. one that 
came from the Fairy dwelling, an Elf) ? To the reader 
the case will appear one of simple hallucination 
produced by ardent spirits, but it is of interest as 
shewing the interpretation put upon it under a belief 
in the Fairies. 

While supper was being prepared in a farmer's 
house in Morvern, a very little woman, a stranger to 
the inmates, entered. She was invited to share the 
supper with the family, but would take none of the 
food of which the meal consisted, or of any other the 
inmates had to offer. She said her people lived on 
the tops of heather, and in the loch called Lochan 
Fasta Litheag. There does not seem to be any loch 


of the name in Morvern. The name is difficult to 
translate, but indicates a lakelet covered with weeds 
or green scum. The little woman left the house as 
she came, and fear kept every one from following her, 
or questioning her further. 

A woman at Kinloch Teagus {Ceann Loch T^acais), 
in the same parish, was sitting on a summer day in 
front of the house, preparing green dye, by boiling 
heather tops and alum together. This preparation is 
called ailmeid. A young woman, whom she had never 
seen before, came to her, and asked for something to 
eat. The stranger was dressed in green, and wore a 
cap bearing the appearance of the king's hood of a 
sheep {currachd an righ caoracK). The housewife said 
the family were at the shielings with the cattle, and 
there was no food in the house; there was not even a 
drink of milk. The visitor then asked to be allowed 
to make brose of the dye, and received permission to 
do what she liked with it. She was asked where she 
stayed, and she said, " in this same neighbourhood." 
She drank off the compost, rushed away, throwing 
three somersaults, and disappeared. 

A young man, named Galium, when crossing the 
rugged hills of Ard-nieadhonach (Middle Height), in 
Mull, fell in with some St. John's wort {Achlusan Chal- 
lumchille), a plant of magic powers, if found when neither 
sought nor wanted. He took some of it with him. 
He had diicun (small swellings below the toes) on his 


feet, and on coming to a stream sat down and bathed 
them in the water. Looking up, he saw an ugly little 
woman, having no nostrils, on the other side of the 
stream, with her feet resting against his own. She 
asked him for the plant he had in his hand, but he 
refused to give it. She asked him to make snuff of it 
then and give her some. He answered, " What could 
she want with snuff, when she had no nostril to put 
it in ? " He left her and went further on. As he did 
not come home that night his friends and neighbours 
next day went in search of him through the hills. He 
was found by his father asleep on the side; of a cnoc, a 
small hillock, and when awakened, he thought, from 
the position of the sun, he had only slept a few 
minutes. He had, in fact, slept for twenty-four hours. 
His dog lay sleeping in the hollow between his two 
shoulders, and had ' neither hair nor fur ' on. It is 
supposed it had lost the hair in chasing away the 
Fairies, and protecting its master. 

In what seems to be only another version of this 
story, a herd-boy was sitting in the evening by a 
stream bathing his feet. A beautiful woman appeared 
on the other side of the stream, and asked him to pull 
a plant she pointed out, and make snuff of it for her. 
He refused, asking what need had she of snuff, when 
she had no nostrils ? She asked him to cross the 
stream, but he again refused. When he went home 
his step-mother gave him his fdod and milk as usual. 


He gave the whole of it to his dog, and the dog died 
from the effects. 

A herdsman at Baile-phuill, in the west end of Tiree, 
fell asleep on Cnoc Ghrianal, at the eastern base of 
Heynish Hill, on a fine summer afternoon. He was 
awakened by a violent slap on the ear. On rubbing 
his eyes, and looking up, he saw a woman, the most 
beautiful he had ever seen, in a green dress, with a 
brooch fastening it at the neck, walking away from 
him. She went westward and he followed her for 
some distance, but she vanished, he could not tell how. 

A person in Mull reported that he saw several Fairy 
women - together washing at a stream. He went near 
enough to see that they had only one nostril each. 

The places in Tiree where cailleacha sith (Fairy 
hags) were seen were at streams and pools of water 
on Druim-buidhe (the Yellow Back), the links of Ken- 
navara, and the bend of the hill (liibadh na beinne) at 
Baile-phendrais. They have long since disappeared, 
the islanders having become too busy to attend to 

A Skyeman was told by one of these weird women 
never to put the burning end of a peat outside when 
making up the fire for the night. 

A man in Mull, watching in the harvest field at 
night, saw a woman standing in the middle of a stream 


that ran past the field. He ran after her, and seemed 
sometimes to be close upon her, and again to be as far 
from her as ever. Losing temper he swore himself to 
the devil that he would follow till he caught her. 
When he said the words the object of his pursuit 
allowed herself to be overtaken, and showed her true 
character by giving him a sound thrashing. Every 
night after he had to meet her. He was like to fall 
into a decline through fear of her, and becoming 
thoroughly tired of the affair, he consulted an old 
woman of the neighbourhood, who advised him to take 
with him to the place of appointment the ploughshare 
and his brother John. This would keep the Fairy woman 
from coming near him. The Fairy, however, said to 
him in a mumbling voice, "You have taken the plough- 
share with you to-night, Donald, and big, pock-marked, 
dirty John your brother," and catching him she ad- 
ministered a severer thrashing than ever. He went 
again to the old woman, and this time she made for 
his protection a thread, which he was to wear about his 
neck. He put it on, and, instead of going to the 
place of meeting, remained at the fireside. The Fairy 
came, and, taking him out of the house, gave him 
a still severer thrashing. Upon this, the wise woman 
said she would make a chain to protect him against 
all the powers of darkness, though they came. He put 
this chain about his neck, and remained by the fireside. 
He heard a voice calling down the chimney, " I cannot 


come near you to-night, Donald, when the pretty 
smooth-white is about your neck." 

A man in lona, thinking daylight was come, rose 
and went to a rock to fish. After catching some fish, 
he observed he had been misled by the clearness of the 
moonlight, and set off home. On the way, as the 
night was so fine, he sat down to rest himself on a 
hillock. He fell asleep, and was awakened by the 
pulling of the fishing rod, which he had in his hand. 
He found the rod was being pulled in one direction 
and the fish in another. He secured both, and was 
making off, when he heard sounds behind him as of a 
woman weeping. On his turning round to her, she 
said, " Ask news, and you will get news." He answered, 
" I put God between us." When he said this, she caught 
him and thrashed him soundly. Every night after he 
was compelled to meet her, and on her repeating the 
same words and his giving the same answer, was 
similarly drubbed. To escape from her persecutions 
he went to the Lowlands. When engaged there cutting 
drains, he saw a raven on the bank above him. This 
proved to be his tormentor, and he was compelled to 
meet her again at night, and, as usual, she thrashed 
him. He resolved to go to America. On the eve of 
his departure, his Fairy mistress met him and said, 
" You are going away to escape from me. If you see 


a hooded crow when you land, I am that crow." On 
landing in America he saw a crow sitting on a tree, 
and knew it to be his old enemy. In the end the 
Fairy dame killed him. 


At the time of the American War of Independence, 
a native of Tiree, similarly afflicted and wishing to 
escape from his Fairy love, enlisted and was drafted off 
to the States. On landing he thanked God he was 
now where the hag could not reach him. Soon after, 
however, she met him. " You have given thanks," she 
said, " for getting rid of me, but it is as easy for me 
to make my appearance here as in your own country." 
She then told him what fortunes were to befall him, 
that he would survive the war and return home, and 
that she would not then trouble him any more. " You 
will marry there and settle. You will have two 
daughters, one of whom will marry and settle in Croy- 
Gortan {Cruaidh-ghortain, stone-field), the other will 
marry and remain in your own house. The one away 
will ask you to stay with herself, as her sister will 
not be kind to you. Your death will occur when you 
are crossing the Leige " (a winter stream falling into 
Loch Vasipol). All this in due course happened. 

About four generations ago, a native of Cornaig in 
Tiree was out shooting on the Reef plain, and returning 
home in the evening, at the streamlet, which falls into 


Balefetrish Bay, near Kennovay, was met by a Fairy 
dame. He did not at first observe anything in her 
appearance different from other women, but, on her 
putting over her head and kissing him, he saw she had 
but one nostril. On reaching home he was unable to 
articulate one word. By the advice of an old man he 
composed, in his mind, a love song to the Fairy. On 
doing this, his speech came back. 

[This tale was taken down in Gaelic from the 
dictation of Donald Cameron, Ruaig, Tiree, in 1863, 
and is here given in his words as closely as a trans- 
lation will allow. It is a very good specimen of a 
class of tales found in the Highlands, and illustrates 
many remarkable traits of the belief regarding the 
Fairy women, their enmity to the hunter, their beauty 
and powers of enchanting men at first, their changing 
their shape to that of deer, and the aversion dogs have 
to them ; also the size and character of the Fairy 

Mac-vic-Allan of Arasaig, lord of Moidart, went 
out hunting in his own forest when young and 
unmarried. He saw a royal stag before him, as 
beautiful an animal as he had ever seen. He levelled 
his gun at it, and it became a woman as beautiful as 
he had ever seen at all. He lowered his gun, and it 
became a royal stag as before. Every time he raised 


the gun to his eye, the figure was that of a woman, 
and every time he let it down to the ground, it was a 
royal stag. Upon this he raised the gun to his eye 
and walked up till he was close to the woman's breast. 
He then sprang and caught her in his arms. " You 
will not be separated from me at all," he said, " I will 
never marry any but you." " Do not do that, Mac-vic- 
Allan," she said, " you have no business with me, I will 
not suit you. There will never be a day, while you 
have me with you, but you will need to kill a cow for 
me." "You will get that," said the lord of Moidart, 
" though you should ask two a day." 

But Mac-vic-Allan's herd began to grow thin. He 
tried to send her away, but he^could not. He then 
went to an old man, who lived in the townland, and 
was his counsellor. He said he would be a broken 
man, and he did not know what plan to take to get 
rid of her. The honest old man told him, that unless 
Macphie of Colonsay could'"send her away, there was 
not another living who could. A letter was instantly 
sent off to Macphie. He answered the letter, and 
came to Arasaig. 

" What business is this you have with me," said 
Macphie, " Mac-vic-Allan ? " 

Mac-vic-Allan told him how the woman had come 
upon him, and how he could not send her away. 

" Go you," said Macphie, " and kill a cow for her 
to-day as usual ; send her dinner to the room as 


usual ; and give me my dinner on the other side of 
the room." 

Mac-vic-Allan did as he was asked. She com- 
menced her dinner, and Macphie commenced his. 
When Macphie got his dinner past, he looked over 
at her. 

" What is your news, EUe-maid ? " said he. 
" What is that to you, Brian Brugh,'' said she. 
" I saw you, Elle-maid," said he, 
" When you consorted with the Fingalians, 
When you went with Dermid o Duvne 
And accompanied him from covert to covert." 
" I saw you, Brian Brugh," she said, 
When you rode on an old black horse. 
The lover of the slim Fairy woman, 
Ever chasing her from brugh to brugh." 

" Dogs and men after the wretch," cried Macphie, " long 
have I known her." 

Every dog and man in Arasaig was called and sent 
after her. She fled away out to the point of Arasaig, 
and they did not get a second sight of her. 

Upon this Macphie went home to his own Colonsay. 
One day he was out hunting, and night came on before 
he got home. He saw a light and made straight for 
it. He saw a number of men sitting in there, and an 
old grey-headed man in the midst. The old man 
spoke and said, " Macphie, come forward." Macphie 
went forward, and what should come in his way but a 
bitch, as beautiful an animal as he had ever seen, and 
a litter of pups with it. He saw one pup in particular. 


black in colour, and he had never seen a pup so black 
or so beautiful as it. 

" This dog will be my own," said Macphie. 

"No," said the man, "you will get your choice of 
the pups, but you will not get that one." 

" I will not take one," said Macphie, " but this one." 

" Since you are resolved to have it," said the old 
man, " it will not do you but one day's service, and 
it will do that well. Come back on such a night and 
you will get it." 

Macphie reached the place on the night he promised 
to come. They gave him the dog, " and take care of 
it well," said the old man, " for it will never do service 
for you but the one day." 

The Black Dog began to turn out so handsome a 
whelp that no one ever saw a dog so large or so 
beautiful as it. When Macphie went out hunting he 
called the Black Dog, and the Black Dog came to the 
door and then turned back and lay where it was before. 
The gentlemen who visited at Macphie's house used to 
tell him to kill the Black Dog, it was not worth its 
food. Macphie would tell them to let the dog alone, 
that the Black Dog's day would come yet. 

At one time a number of gentlemen came across 
from Islay to visit Macphie and ask him to go with 
them to Jura to hunt. At that time Jura was a desert, 
without anyone staying on it, and without its equal 
anywhere as hunting ground for deer and roe. There 


was a place there where those who went for sport used 
to stay, called the Big Cave. A boat was made ready 
to cross the sound that same day. Macphie rose to 
go, and the sixteen young gentlemen along with him., 
Each of them called the Black Dog, and it reached the 
door, then turned and lay down where it was before. 
" Shoot it," cried the young gentlemen. " No," said 
he, " the Black Dog's day is not come yet." Thej' 
reached the shore, but the wind rose and they did 
not get across that day. 

Next day thej' made ready to go ; the Black Dog 
was called and reached the door, but returned where 
it was before. " Kill it," said the gentlemen, " and 
don't be feeding it any longer.'' " I will not kill it," 
said Macphie, " the Black Dog's day will come yet." 
They failed to get across this day also from the 
violence of the weather and returned. " The dog has 
foreknowledge," said the gentlemen. " It has foreknow- 
ledge," said Macphie, " that its own day will come yet." 

On the third day the weather was beautiful. They 
took their way to the harbour, and did not say a 
syllable this day to the Black Dog. They launched 
the boat to go away. One of the gentlemen looked 
and said the Black Dog was coming, and he never saw 
a creature like it, because of its fierce look. It sprang, 
and was the first creature in the boat. " The Black 
Dog's day is drawing near us," said Macphie. 

They took with them meat, and provisions, and 


bedclothes, and went ashore in Jura. They passed 
that night in the Big Cave, and next day went to hunt 
the deer. Late in the evening they came home. They 
prepared supper. They had a fine fire in the cave 
and light. There was a big hole in the very roof 
of the cave through which a man could pass. When 
they had taken their supper the young gentlemen lay 
down, Macphie rose, and stood warming the back of 
his legs to the fire. Each of the young men said he 
wished his own sweetheart was there that night. 
" Well," said Macphie, " I prefer that my wife should 
be in her own house ; it is enough for me to be here 
myself to-night." 

Macphie gave a look from him and saw sixteen 
women entering the door of the cave. The light went 
out and there was no light except what the fire 
gave. The women went over to where the gentlemen 
were. Macphie could see nothing from the darkness 
that came over the cave. He was not hearing a sound 
from the men. The women stood up and one of them 
looked at Macphie. She stood opposite to him as 
though she were going to attack him. The Black Dog 
rose and put on a fierce bristling look and made a 
spring at her. The women took to the door, and the 
Black Dog followed them to the mouth of the cave. 
When they went away the Black Dog returned and 
lay at Macphie's feet. 

In a little while Macphie heard a horrid noise 


overhead in the top of the cave, so that he thought 
the cave would fall in about his head. He looked up 
and saw a man's hand coming down through the hole, 
and making as if to catch himself and take him out 
through the hole in the roof of the cave. The Black 
Dog gave one spring, and between the shoulder and 
the elbow caught the Hand, and lay upon it with all its 
might. Now began the play between the Hand and 
the Black Dog. Before the Black Dog let go its hold, 
it chewed the arm through till it fell on the floor. 
The Thing that was on the top of the cave went away, 
and Macphie thought the cave would fall in about his 
head. The Black Dog rushed out after the Thing that 
was outside. This was not the time when Macphie 
felt himself most at ease, when the Black Dog left him. 
When the day dawned, behold the Black Dog had re- 
turned. It lay down at Macphie's feet, and in a few 
minutes was dead. 

When the light of day appeared Macphie looked, 
and he had not a single man alive of those who were 
with him in the cave. He took with him the Hand, 
and went to the shore to the boat. He went on board 
and went home to Colonsay, unaccompanied by dog or 
man. He took the Hand up with him that men might 
see the horror he had met with, the night he was in 
the cave. No man in Islay or Colonsay ever at all saw 
such a hand, nor did they imagine that such existed. 

There only remained to send a boat to Jura and 


take home the bodies that were in the cave. That was 
the end of the Black Dog's day. 

A short tale, similar to the first part of the above 
legend, is given in Campbell's Tales of the West 
Highlands (ii. 52). A fairy changeling in Gaolin 
Castle, Kerrera, is detected by a visitor from Ireland as 
the Fairy sweetheart of a countryman — Brian Mac 
Braodh. On being detected the Elle woman ran into 
the sea from the point since called Rutha na Sirich. 
The name Brian Brugh of the one tale and Brian Mac 
Braodh of the other renders it probable the two tales 
had originally more in common. 

The expression, " The Black Dog's day will come 
yet " ( Thig latha choindui fliathast^, has passed into a 
proverb to denote that a time will yet come when one 
now despised will prove of service. The English pro- 
verb, " Every dog has its day," means that everyone 
has his own time of enjoyment. 

The Macphies or MacDuffies were Lairds of Colon- 
say till the middle of the 17th century. In 1623 
the celebrated Colkitto was delated for the murder of 
umquhill Malcolm Macphie of Colonsay ; and one of 
the race lies buried in lona, with the inscription on 
his tomb 

Hic Jacet Malcolumbus Macduffie de Colonsay. 

If the same Malcolm is referred to in both cases. 


these traces of his fame, slight though they be, create 
some presumption that he may be the person round 
whom romance has gathered the incidents of the above 
tale. In 161 5 Malcolm Macphie joined Sir James 
Macdonald of Dunyveg, in Islay, in the last and un- 
successful attempt made by the once powerful Clan- 
donald of Islay and Cantyre to retain their possessions 
from the Campbells. He was one of the principal 
leaders of the rebels and a remarkable man. The 
family was one of the oldest and most esteemed in 
the West Highlands. 

The following are other versions of the tale in 
circulation. They are of interest when compared with 
each other in showing the growth and character of a 
popular tale. 

Macphie of Colonsay was kept captive by a mermaid 
in a cave by the shore. She supplied him with what- 
ever he needed or desired, but he was not happy, and 
took advantage of her absence to make his escape. 
She missed him on her return and went in pursuit. 
He had with him a large black dog, which he had kept 
in spite of everyone's remonstrances. When the mer- 
maid overtook him he threw it into the water and it 
fought the mermaid. The end of the battle was that 
the dog killed the mermaid and the mermaid killed 
the dog. 

This version is the one which supplied the ground 
work of Leyden's beautiful ballad " The Mermaid." 


Considerable changes must have been made by him 
upon the legend as it came to his hand. The dog, 
which in all the versions is the principal character, is 
left out ; Macphie's name is changed to Macphail ; a 
magic ring (a thing unknown in Highland lore) is 
introduced, etc. Leyden fell in with the version, of 
which he made use, in his travels in the Highlands 
in 1801. 

Macphie of Colonsay was in an island hunting, and 
in the course of his ramblings came to a hut, which he 
entered. He found no one in, and threw himself on a 
bed for a little rest. He was accompanied by a dog as 
large as a year old calf A dark object idiithrd) came 
to the door and the dog attacked it. The Thing 
made a hideous screaming. When Macphie saw the 
dog's hair beginning to smoke, he made his escape to 
the boat that had come with him to the island. 
Before long the dog came rushing after him, like a mad 
beast, with a green flame issuing from its jaws. Mac- 
phie had prepared himself for this .by loading his 
double-barrelled gun^ with two crooked sixpences. He 
fired the two shots at the dog, as it rushed to attack 
him, and killed it. The Banshi, it had fought with, 
was left cruelly mauled, and she crawled or dragged 
herself to the shore, throwing rocks and stones out of 

^ It is often observable in popular tales that articles of modern use are 
ascribed to those who lived before their invention. Anachronisms are not 
heeded in popular lore. 


her way. Her track is still known as the Carlin's 
Furrow {Sgriob na CaillicJi). The boat left the shore 
before she reached it. She tried to bring it back by 
throwing a ball of thread after it, but without success. 
This was in Islay. 

Macphie of Colonsay, when he went hunting, was 
met in a particular glen by a man who accompanied 
him during the rest of the excursion. His companion 
had a brindled bitch {galla riabhach), to which Macphie 
took a fancy. He asked the man to sell it. " I will 
not," said the man, " sell it to you or any one else, but 
as you have rested your eye upon it, I will give it to 
you for a while. It will have two pups, one like itself 
and one black. The brindled one you can keep, but 
the black one must be returned along with its mother. 
You will meet me at this same spot on such a day." 
Macphie took the brindled bitch home, and in due 
time the animal had two pups, both very pretty. 
When the time came, Macphie went back, according to 
promise, to the place appointed, but instead of taking 
the black pup, took the brindled one. The man said 
to him, " You have not brought the Black Dog ; it 
would have been better for you if you had ; but keep 
it. It will give you but one night's service ; you 
will not gain much by the Black Dog." After this the 
Black Dog began to wither ; it grew large and tall but 
lank and lean. The servants thrashed and kicked it 
about, as if it never was likely to come to any good. 


Macphie himself seemed to have an unaccountable 
regard for it, and was very angry when he saw it 
abused. Two gentlemen came to see him, with the 
intention of taking him with them to hunt in some 
neighbouring islet. On the morning of their intended 
expedition they rose early, and were getting the guns 
ready, when the Black Dog rose and whined and 
fawned upon Macphie. On reaching the boat the 
Black Dog was the first to spring on board. The 
night became stormy, and the party were not able to 
get home that night. They passed the night in a 
cave. A noise as of walking was heard overhead, and 
a Hand appeared through the roof as if to grasp one of 
Macphie's friends. All the dogs fled into the corners 
of the cave. Macphie himself had a Jew's harp (which 
is said to be the holiest kind of musical instrument), 
and when he played fast upon it the Hand drew back; 
when he played slow the Hand came nearer. At last 
he was almost exhausted. He called upon the Black 
Dog, and the Black Dog rose. " My Black Dog," said 
Macphie, " if you cannot do it now, I am undone." 
The Dog attacked the Hand, and made it disappear. 
It then rushed out and gave chase. It came back, 
spotted and speckled, with its hair stripped off. When 
the hunters got home on the following night the Dog 

Macphie from Colonsay was cast ashore at Ormsaig, 
in the district of Brolas in Mull, clinging to a log of 


wood. He stayed for some time at Ormsaig, and was in 
the habit of going to the hill with his gun. A Fairy 
woman met him there, and from her he received the 
present of a young dog, which she said would yet be of 
service to him, but only for one day. He had seven- 
teen foster brothers, and, on his return home, they 
came and asked him to go with them to shoot cor- 
morants at the Paps of Jura. The Dog, which had by 
this time grown very large, and had never before given 
any indication of being useful, this day -eagerly accom- 
panied the hunters. Macphie's wife had often urged 
him to kill the dog, but he had insisted on keeping it. 
When Jura was reached, a servant was left in charge of 
the boats, and the company passed the night in a cave. 
As they reclined round the cave, each expressed a 
wish, that his sweetheart were there. Macphie, who 
was standing by the fire, said he had no such wish, it 
was better for his mistress to be at home. Before 
long, seventeen women in green dresses entered the 
cave, and went over to the beds of heather where 
Macphie's foster brothers were, and Macphie heard the 
crackling sound of breaking bones. The seventeen 
women then came up, as if to attack himself Afraid 
of their number, he called to the Black Dog, " if 
you assist me not now, I am a lost man." The dog 
attacked the women, drove them out of the cave, and 
went off in pursuit.' Macphie fled to the boat, and 
he and the servant left in charge quitted the shore 


with all haste. When they were well out to sea, the 
servant said there was a fiery star coming after them. 
Macphie said it was the Black Dog, and its heart had 
taken fire. He made ready, and when the dog over- 
took them, cut off its head. 

Beinne Bhric). 

The Fairy wife, who owned the deer of Ben Breck, 
is well known in the Highlands. 

It is told of her that on one occasion, as she milked 
a hind, the animal became restive and gave her a kick. 
In return she struck the hind with her open palm and 
expressed a wish that the arrow of Donald, the son of 
John (a noted hunter in his day), might come upon it. 
That very day the restive hind fell to Do'il Macjain's 
arrow. ^ 

It is also told of this Elfin wife that while three 
hunters were passing the night in a bothy on Ben 
Breck, the Carlin wife came to the door and sought 
admittance. A dog that accompanied the hunters 

^ This Db^il Macjain is probably the D^il du beag Innse-riiithe^ a 
celebrated bowman and follower of Cameron of Locheil, and, as his name 
denotes, a person of small stature, who, according to tradition, shot the 
arrow that nailed the hand of Big Angus Macian (Aonghas Mor Mac'ic 
Eoin) of Ardnamurchan, one of the most stalwart men of his day, to his 
forehead, in Coir Ospuinn, in Morvern, circ. a.d. 1596. Others sa.y Jam 
du beag (little black John) was the hunter whose arrow struck the hind. 
Another (perhaps the same) celebrated Lochaber archer was Jain beag a 
bhuilg bhain (little John of the white bag) from Coiruanain. 


sprang up to attack her. She retreated and asked 
one of the men to tie up his dog. He refused. She 
asked him again, and a second time he refused. She 
asked a third time, and he replied he had nothing to tie 
it with. She pulled a hair out of her head and told 
him to tie his dog with that, it was strong enough 
to hold a four-masted ship at anchor. He pretended 
to consent, and the hag, on trying again to enter, found 
the dog was not secured. She then went away, saying 
it was well for the hunter the dog had not been tied, 
and threatening to come again. It does not appear, 
however, that she ever came back. 

She was last seen about twenty years ago in Loch- 
aber. Age had told severely upon her. Instead of 
being ' broad and tall,' she had become no bigger than 
a teapot ! She wore a little grey plaid or shawl about 
her shoulders. 


Donald, the son of Patrick {Dbrnhnull Mac Pharuig), 
or, as others say, the son of Lachlan, was a brocair, 
that is, a foxhunter or destroyer of ground vermin, in 
Lorn. Persons following this profession were employed 
by the hill farmers, and had generally long tracts of 
country to travel over. Their companions were their 
gun, a pack of terriers, and perhaps a wirj' deer-hound. 
With these they led as lonely a life as anyone who had 
at all to descend to the strath and men's houses could 


do. Many a lonely night they watched by the fox's 
•cairn in some remote corrie for an opportunity ' to put 
a hole in the red rogue's hide,' and they often passed 
the night in bothies and shielings far from the haunts 
of men. One day Donald, the son of Patrick, killed a 
roe, and took it to a bothy in the hills. He kindled a 
fire with the flint of his gun, and having cut up the roe, 
roasted pieces of the flesh by a large fire. As he 
helped himself, he threw now and then a piece to his 
dogs. Before long he observed, the night being moon- 
lit, a large dark shadow coming about the door, and 
then a woman snatching at the pieces of flesh he threw 
to the dogs. She had one tooth as big as a distaff 
projecting from her upper gum. The dogs prevented 
her entering the hut, so that she got but little of the 
food. She asked Donald to leash up his dogs, and on 
his refusing, cried out, " This is poor hospitality for the 
night, Donald, son of Patrick.'' Donald answered, " It 
will be no better and no worse than that." " You 
proved expert at raising a fire,'' she said. " How do 
you know ? " he asked. " I was," she said, " on the top 
of the Cruach of Rannoch (a hill far away) the first 
click you gave to the flint, and this is poor hospitality 
for the night, Donald, son of Patrick." " It will," he 
said, " be no better and no worse than that." In a 
while again she said, " This is poor hospitality for the 
night, Donald, son of Patrick." " Take," he said, " as 
you are able to win." She remained all night, and 


repeatedly asked him to leash up his dogs, which he 
refused to do. The dogs kept her at bay till she 

Another version says that the foxhunter's name was 
Iain Mac Pharuig, that he was accompanied by sixteen 
dogs, that his strange visitant disappeared at the cock- 
crowing, and that she then told she was ' the wife of 
Fe-chiarain ' {Cailleach Fe-chiarain). Some identify 
her with the Carlin of Ben Breck. 


Donald and Big John {Dbrnhnull 's Iain inof) were 
out deer-hunting on the lofty mountain of Ben-y-ghloe,, 
in Athol in Perthshire, when a heavy snowstorm came 
on, and they lost their way. They came to a hut in a 
hollow and entered. The only one in was an old 
woman, the like of whom they said they had never 
seen. Her two arms were bare, of great length, and 
grizzled and sallow to look at. She neither asked 
them to come in nor go out, and being much in need 
of shelter, they went in and sat at the fire. There was 
a look in her eye that might ' terrify a coward,' and 
she hummed a surly song, the words of which were 
unintelligible to them. They asked for meat, and she 
set before them a fresh salmon trout, saying, " Little 
you thought I would give you your dinner to-day." 
She also said she could do more, that it was she who 


clothed the hill with mist to make them come to her 
house. They stayed with her all night. She was very 
kind and hospitable. She told her pame to them 
when leaving, that she was ' the wife of Ben-y- 
Ghloe.' They could not say whether she was sith or 
saoghalta (Elfin or human), but they never visited 
her again. 


On the lands of Scalasdal in Mull, a deer was killed, 
which turned out afterwards to be a woman. 

It is perhaps this belief in the metamorphosis of 
Fairy women and deer that was the origin of the 
tradition that Oisian's mother was a deer. In Skye it 
is said that after the poet's birth his mother could 
touch him but once with her tongue on the temple. 
On that corner (air an Oisinn sin) a tuft of fur like 
that of a deer grew, hence the poet's name. An infor- 
mant in the centre of Argyllshire said he did not hear 
Oisian's mother was a deer, but he had heard the poet 
was nurtured by a deer. In the Northern Hebrides, a 
5ong is sometimes heard which Oisian is said to have 
composed to the deer.^ 

^ Several versions of the song vi^ill be found in Campbell's Leabhar na 
Feinne, p. 198. According to the Skye tradition, the secret of Oisian's 
birth was not knovifn till notice was taken of his never eating venison like 
the rest of the host. On being questioned, he said, "When everyone 
picks his mother's shank bone, I will pick my own mother's slender 
shank bone." 

acronicert's fairy wife. 127 

o'cronicert's fairy wife.^ 

There was a man in Ireland, whose name was 

O'Cronicert, and his dwelling place was Corr-water, 

and he spent all he had on the great nobles of Ireland, 

bringing them for days' entertainment and for nights' 

entertainment, till he had nothing left but an old 

tumble-down black house, and an old wife, and an old 

lame white horse. The thought that came into his 

head was, to go to the King of Ireland for assistance, 

to see what he would give. He cut a cudgel of grey 

oak in the outskirt of the wood, and sat on the back 

of the old lame white horse, and set off at speed 

through wood, and through moss, and through rugged 

ground, till he reached the King's house. The custom 

was, that . a man should be a year and a day in the 

King's house before being asked the object of his 

journey. After being there a year and a day, the 

King said, " O'Cronicert, it is not without a cause for 

your journey you have come here." " It is not," said 

O'Cronicert, " it is for assistance I have come here. 

You know it was for yourself and your great nobles I 

spent my property entirely." "You will wait," said 

the King, " till I bring in the children " ; and they 

were there as men called them Murdoch Mac Brian, and 

Duncan Mac Brian, and Torgill Mac Brian, and Brian 

1 This version was originally taken down in Gaelic from the recitation of 
Malcolm Sinclair, Balefuill, Tiree. The tale was known in Ireland, and 
the reputation of it still survives very extensively throughout the Highlands. 


Borr Mac Cimi, and his sixteen foster brothers with 
every one of them. , 

" I will give," said Murdoch Mac Brian, " a hundred 
milch cows to him." 

" I will give," said Duncan Mac Brian, " a hundred 
farrow cows to him, in case they should be in calf all 
in one year." 

"I will give him,'' said Torgill Mac Brian, "a hundred 
brood mares." 

" I will give him," said Brian Borr Mac Cimi, " a 
hundred sheep." 

After O'Cronicert got this, he was not going away. 
The King told him to go away, that it was difficult to 
keep his herd separate from the King's own, and to 
take it away. He said to the King that he had one 
thing in view, and if he got it from the King, he would 
prefer it to all he had already got. 

" It is certain," said the King, " it must be some bad 
thing or other ; you had better tell it, that I may let 
you away." 

" It is," he said, " the lap-dog, that is out and in 
after the Queen, that I wish for " ; and the King gave 
him permission to take it with him. 

He took the lap-dog, leapt on the back of the old 
lame white horse, and went off at speed, without one 
look at the herd, through wood, and through moss, and 
through rugged ground. After he had gone some 
distance through the wood, a roe-buck leapt out of the 


wood, and the lap-dog went after it, and in an instant 
they were out of sight. 

Close upon the evening, he saw the lap-dog coming, 
and a royal stag before it, and the deer started up as a 
woman behind O'Cronicert, the handsomest that eye 
had ever seen from the beginning of the universe till 
the end of eternity. O'Cronicert caught her, and she 
asked him to let her go, and he said there would be no 
separation in life between them. 

" Well," said she, " before I go with you, you must 
come under three conditions to me " ; and he promised 
to come under the conditions. 

" The first condition is, that you will not go to ask 
the King of Ireland or his great nobles for a day's or a 
night's entertainment without telling me. The next 
condition is, that you will not go to a change-house 
without putting it in my option ; and the third thing, 
that you will never cast up to me that you found me 
an unwise animal (beathach mi-ckeillidh) in the wood." 

They reached the old tumble-down black house, and 
the wife he had left there was a faggot-bundle of bone? 
in a pool of rain-drip in the middle of the floor. They 
cut grass in clefts and ledges of the rocks, and made a 
bed, and laid down. 

O'Cronicert's wakening from sleep was the lowing of 
cattle, and the bleating of sheep, and the neighing of 
mares, while he himself was in a bed of gold on wheels 
of silver, going from end to end of the Tower of Castle 


Town, the finest eye had ever seen from the beginning 
of the universe till the end of eternity. 

" It is no wonder," he said, " the like of this should 
happen to me, when I found you an unwise animal in 
the wood." 

" As well as you broke that condition you will break 
the rest ; rise, and drive the cattle away to pasture." 

When he went out, there was no number to the 
multitude of his flock, and on a day of the days after 
that, while looking at the flock, he thought he would 
go to ask the King of Ireland for a day and night's 
entertainment. He sat on the back of the old lame 
white horse, and went through wood, and moss, and 
rugged ground, till he reached the King's house. 

The King said to him, " Do you at all intend, 
O'Cronicert, to take your flock with you ? They are 
to-day so numerous that the herdsmen do not know 
them from my own." 

" No, I have no need of them. I have a larger stock 
than yourself, and what has brought me is to ask your- 
self and nobles for a day and night's entertainment." 

The King said to him, " We are ready, my good 
fellow, to go " ; and there were there, as men called 
them, Murdoch Mac Brian, and Duncan Mac Brian, and 
Torgill Mac Brian, and Brian Borr Mac Cimi, and his 
sixteen foster-brothers with every one of them. It 
was when they were near the house O'Cronicert 
remembered he had left without telling her. He told 


them to make their way slowly, and he himself would 
go before to tell they were coming. 

" You did not need, I knew very well that you 
went ; let them come on, everything is ready." 

When the King thought he had been seven days 
and seven nights drinking there, he said to Murdoch, 
his son, that it was time for them to be going. She 
then said to the King that it was high time for him — 
" You have been seven days and seven years in this 

" If I am," said he, " I need not go back ; there is 
not a man or living creature awaiting me." 

Murdoch had a foster-brother, whose name was 
Keyn, the son of Loy {Kian Mac an Luaimk), and he 
fell in love with O'Cronicert's wife. He pretended to 
be ill and remained behind the rest. She made a 
•drink for him and went with it to him, but instead 
of taking the drink he laid hold of herself She 
suddenly became a filly, and gave him a kick and 
broke his leg. She took with her the tower of Castle 
Town as an armful on her shoulder and a light burden 
on her back, and left him in the old tumble-down black 
house, in a pool of rain-drip, in the middle of the floor. 

In the parting O'Cronicert went to the change-house 
to bid the party good-bye, and it was then Murdoch 
Mac Brian remembered he had left his own foster- 
birother, Keyn, the son of Loy, behind, and said there 
■would be no separation in life between them, and he 


would go back for him. He found Keyn in the old 
tumble-down black house, in the middle of the floor, 
in a pool of rain-water, with his leg broken ; and he 
said the earth would make a nest in his sole, and the 
sky a nest in his head, if he did not find a man who 
would cure Keyn's leg. 

The rest of the tale consists principally of true tales, 
necessary to be told, before Keyn will consent to 
stretch his leg for a salve to be applied to it. The 
King of Lochlin, or, according to others, the King of 
Ireland, who is bound not to allow any one to remain 
in distress, when he can relieve, tells a series of marvel- 
lous adventures that befell himself, all jointing into one 
another, before Keyn stretches his foot. The com- 
position is of a kindred character with the Arabian 
Nights' Entertaimnent. 

The reader will observe that in this tale, as in that 
of " Macphie's Black Dog," the Fairy wife is first en- 
countered in the shape of a deer, that (as is alleged of 
her race in other tales) she dislikes being reproached 
with not being of mortal race, and calls up in one 
night a palace of enchanting magnificence, in which 
time passes unobserved, and in the end disappears, 
leaving matters worse than at the beginning. 

In Campbell's West Highland Tales (ii. 410) will be 
found a tale also highly illustrative of this part of the 


superstition. The hero of the tale, the Fair Long- 
haired One, son of the King of Ireland, encounters a 
woman with a narrow green kirtle (the Fairy dress), 
and after playing cards with her, is placed under the 
following spell : — " I place thee under enchantments 
and crosses, under the nine shackles of the roaming, 
wandering Fairy dame, that the most stunted and 
weakliest little calf take off your head, and your ears, 
and your livelihood, if you rest night or day, where 
you take your breakfast, that you will not take your 
dinner, and where you take your dinner, you will not 
take your supper, till you find out the place I am in, 
under the four red divisions of the world." ^ 

There is also in the tale an Elfin old woman, the 
Carlin of the Red Stream, who is of the same class 
with the old wife of Ben Breck. She has a wonderful 
deer, which she can restore to life if she can get any of 
its flesh as juice to taste, and her yells split the iron 
hoops the prudent Fin had put round his men's heads 
in anticipation .of her outcries. 


Big Hugh, of Ardchyle {Ebghan mbr aird-a-ckaoil), 
in the east of the island of Mull, a noted deer-hunter 

1 This rendering of the popular incantation differs somewhat from that 
given by Mr. Campbell himself. The Gaelic version is the best the writer 
has been able to fall in with. Var. An laogh niaol carrach is miosa na 
ainm, "the polled-scabbed calf, that is worse than its name, take off your 
head," etc. 


in his day, killed a deer at Torness {Torr-an-Eas, the 
eminence' by the ravine), some seven miles away in 
Glenmore, and conveyed it home at night. He was 
accompanied by a man of the name of Sinclair. 
Sinclair asked him if the deer was heavy, and Big 
Hugh said he felt as if he had a house on his back. 
Sinclair then stuck his pen-knife in the deer, and asked 
again if the burden felt heavy. Big Hugh said it was 
now so light he could hardly believe he had a burden 
on his back at all. The weight had been laid on by 
the Fairies. 


In Breadalbane and the Highlands of Perthshire it is 
said the Fairies live on goat's milk. A goat was taken 
home by a man in Strathfillan, in Perthshire, to be 
killed. In the evening a stranger, dressed in green, 
came to the door. He was asked to enter and rest 
himself. He said he could not, as he was in a hurry, 
and on his way to Dunbuck (a celebrated Fairy haunt 
near Dunbarton), an urgent message having come for 
him. He said that many a day that goat had kept 
him in milk. He then disappeared. He could be 
nothing but a Fairy. 

A Strong-minded headstrong woman in Kianish, 
Tiree, had a cow, the milk of which strangely failed. 


Suspecting that the cow was being milked by someone 
during the night, she sat up and watched. She saw 
a woman dressed in green coming noiselessly and 
milking the cow. She came behind and caught her. 
In explanation the Fairy woman said she had a child 
lying in the smallpox, and as a favour asked to be 
allowed to milk the cow for one month, till the 
child got better. This was allowed, and when the 
month was out, the cow's milk became as plentiful as 

That the Fairies took away cows at night in order 
to milk them, and sent them back in the morning, 
was a belief in Craignish, Morvern, Tiree, Lochaber, 
and probably in the whole Highlands. When milk 
lost its virtue, and yielded neither cream, nor butter, 
nor cheese, the work was that of witches and such like 
diabolical agencies. When the mischief was done by 
the Fairies the whole milk disappeared. 

FAIRY cows. 
A strong man named Dugald Campbell was one 
night, about the end of last century, watching the cattle 
on the farm of Baile-phuill, in the west of Tiree. A 
little red cow came among the herd and was attacked 
by the other cows. It fled and they followed. Dugald 
also set off in pursuit. Sometimes the little red cow- 
seemed near, sometimes far away. At last it entered 
the face of a rock, and one of the other cows followed 


and was never again seen. The whole herd would 
have followed had not Dugald intercepted them. 

A poor person's cow, in Skye, was by some act of 
oppression taken from him. That night the Fairies 
brought him another cow, remarkable only in having 
green water weeds upon it. This cow throve. 

Some four generations ago cows came ashore on 
Nisibost beach, on the farm of Loscantire {Losg-an-tir), 
in Harris. The people got between them and the 
shore, with such weapons as they could get, and kept 
them from returning to the sea again. Even handfuls 
of sand thrown between the cows and the shore kept 
them back. These sea-cows were in all respects like 
ordinary highland cattle but were supposed to live 
under the sea on the sea-weed called meillich. They 
were called Fairy cows (Cro sitk), and the superiority 
of the Loscantire cattle was said to have originated 
from them. It is more probable the superiority of 
the stock was the origin of the Fairy cattle. 

Cows of the same kind were also said to have come 
ashore in Bernera, in Uist, and at MacNicol's Big 
Rock {Creag rnhbr mhic Neacail), on the farm of 
Scorrybreck, in Skye. In the latter place they were 
kept from returning by tossing earth between them 
and the sea. Earth from a burying-ground was 
thought to be the most effective in such cases. On 
the evening of the day on which the cows came 
ashore a voice was heard from the sea calling them 

FAIRY COWS. ' 137 

by name. From the rhyme in which this was done 

we learn the cows were of different colours, one black, 

another brown, brindled, red, white-faced, etc. : 

Sisgein, Brisgein, 

Meangan, Meodhran, 

Bo dhu, bo dhonn 

Bo chrom riabhach 

Sliochd na h-aona bhk maoile ruaidhe, 

Nach d' fhkg buaile riasnh na h-aonar ; 

Bo chipnnan Thonn, 

E bhlkrag. 

A ploughman while engaged at his work heard, or 
fancied he heard, a sound of churning, and said he 
wished his thirst "was on the dairymaid." In a short 
time after a woman appeared and offered him a drink 
of buttermilk. Her green dress and sudden appear- 
ance made him refuse the offer, and she said that 
next year he would not need the drink. When the 
twelve months were nearly out the man died.^ 


A woman, near Portree, in Skye, was coming home 
in the evening with her milk pails from the cattle 
fold, accompanied by a dog, which went trotting along 

^ This version of the story is from Skye. A version from Uist is given 
in Campbell's Tales of the West Highlands, ii. 68. It varies merely in 
representing the thirsty man as a traveller, who,, in consequence of refusing 
from the Fairy the drink for which he had wished, was drowned at the 
next ferry. 


before her. Suddenly the dog was observed to run 
to a green hillock, fall down on its knees, and hold 
its ear to the ground. The woman went up to see 
what the matter was, and on listening heard a 
woman inside the hillock churning milk, and singing 
at her work. At the end of every verse there was a 
chorus or exclamation of hit. The song was learnt 
by the listener, and became known as the " Song of 
the Hillock " {Oran a chnuic). The writer has not 
been able to fall in with a copy of it. The incident 
occurred three generations ago. 


There was a Fairy hillock near Dowart, in Mull, 
close to the road which led from the cattle fold to 
the village. If any milk was spilt by the dairymaids 
on their way home with the milk pails, it was a 
common saying that the Fairies would get its benefit. 

Two children, a brother and sister, went on a moon- 
light winter's night to Kennavarra Hill, to look after a 
snare they had set for little birds in a hollow near a 
stream. The ground was covered with snow, and when 
the two had descended into the hollow, they heard most 
beautiful music coming from under ground, close to 
where they were standing. In the extremit)' of terror 
both fled. The boy went fastest, and never looked 


behind him. The girl was at first encumbered by her 
father's big shoes, which she had put on for the occa- 
sion, but, throwing them off, she reached home with a 
panting heart, not long after her brother. The story 
was told by her when an old woman. She had never 
forgot the fright the Fairy music gave her in child- 

In the Braes of Portree there is a hillock called 
"The Fairy Dwelling of the Pretty Hill" {Sithein 
Beinne BoidhicK). A man passing near it in the even- 
ing heard from underground the most delightful music 
ever heard. He could not, however, tell the exact spot 
from which the sound emanated. 

Sounds of exquisite music, as if played by a piper 
marching at the head of a procession, used to be heard 
going underground from the Harp Hillock to the top 
of the Dim of Caolis, in the east end of Tiree. Many 
tunes, of little poetical, whatever be their musical merit, 
said to have been learned from the Fairies, are to be 
heard. One of these, which the writer heard, seemed 
to consist entirely of variations upon the word 
' do-leedl'em.' 


The MacCrimmons were pipers to Macleod, of 
Macleod, and the most celebrated musicians among the 
Scottish Gael. The founder of the family is said to have 
been an Italian harper from Cremona, who came with 


Macleod to Dunvegan, and took the surname from his 
native town. There are several versions of the story, 
which ascribes the excellence of the MacCrimmons in 
music to the Fairies. The following two will suffice. 

The first of the MacCrimmons, when a young lad, 
was sent to a music master to learn bagpipe playing. 
There was to be a competition of pipers at a wedding 
in the neighbourhood, and MacCrimmon asked from 
his master permission to attend, but was refused. He 
resolved to go notwithstanding, and set off alone, taking 
a short cut across the hills. On the way he fell in with 
a Fairy dwelling, which he entered. He found no 
person in but an old woman, who spoke kindly to him, 
saying she knew the object of his journey, and, on his 
promising to go half loss and gain with her, gave him a 
black chanter, which, placed in his pipes, would enable 
him to excel his master, and every other performer. 
She added that she and her people were about to re- 
move from their present dwelling, but, if he came on a 
certain night (naming one near at hand), they would 
have time to give him some lessons. To this one 
night's instruction, and the magic chanter, which re- 
mained in the family as an heirloom, the MacCrimmons 
were indebted for their acknowledged superiority as 
pipers. Their fame will last " while wind is blown into 

' The Blind Piper ' {ant Piobaire dall) was the first 
of the MacCrimmons who acquired fame as a piper. 


Two Banshis found him sleeping in the open air, and 
one of them blinded one of his eyes. The second 
Banshi asked that the other eye might be spared. It, 
however, was blinded also. The benevolent .Fairy then 
suggested that some gift should be given that would 
enable the poor man to earn his living. On this the 
Fairy Carlin gave MacCrimmon a brindled chanter, 
which, placed in the bagpipes, enabled the player to 
outrival all pipers. When the Laird of Dungallon 
obtained the brindled chanter for his own piper 
Macintyre, flie MacCrimmons never did well after. 
The chanter was last known to be at Callart. 

Mac-an-sgialaiche, pipers at Taymouth Castle, were 
also said to have got their pipes from the Fairies. 


A large black dog, passing by with a noiseless and 
gliding motion, was a common object of terror in the 
Hebrides on winter nights. The coil in the animal's 
tail was alone sufficiently alarming. Much of its shape 
depended, no doubt, on how his own hair hung over 
the eyes of the frightened spectator. 

A man, coming across the links near Kennavara 
Hill in Tiree, came upon a large black dog, resting on 
the side of a sandbank. On observing it, he turned 
aside, and took another road home. Next day he 
recovered courage, and went to examine the spot. He 
found on the sand the marks of a dog's paw, as large 


as the spread of his palm. He followed these huge 
footmarks till he lost them on the plain. The dog had 
taken no notice of him, and he felt assured, from its 
size, it could be no earthly hound. 

On the north shore of Tiree there is a beach of more 
than a mile in length, called Cladach a Ckrbgain, well 
calculated to be the scene of strange terrors. The 
extensive plain (about 1500 acres in extent), of which 
it forms the northern fringe, is almost a dead level, and 
in instances of very high flood-tides, with north-west 
gales of wind, the sea has been known to overflow it, 
and join the sea on the south side, three miles away, 
dividing Tiree into two islands. The upper part of the 
beach consists of loose round stones, a little larger than 
a goose's egg, which make, when the tide is in, and 
under the influence of the restless surf, a hoarse 
rumbling sound, sufficiently calculated, with the ac- 
companiment of strange scenery, to awaken the 
imagination. An old woman, half- a -century ago, 
asserted that, when a young girl, she had heard on 
this beach the bark of the Fairy hound. Her father's 
house was at a place called Fidden, of which no trace 
now remains beyond the name of the Fidden Gate 
{Cachla nam Fideari), given to a spot where there is no 
gate. It was after night-fall, and she was playing out 
about the doors, when she was suddenly startled by a 
loud sound, like the baying of a dog, only much louder, 
from the other end of the shore. She remembered her 


father having come and taken hold of her hand, ajid 
running with her to the house, for if the dog was heard 
to bark thrice, it would overtake them. It made a 
noise like a horse galloping. 

At the foot of Heynish Hill, in the extreme south- 
west of Tiree, there is one of those small forts to be 
found in great numbers in the Hebrides (and said to 
have been intended, by fires lighted upon them, to give 
warning of the approach of the Danes), called Shiadar 
Fort. In former days a family resided, or was out at 
the summer shielings, near this fort. The byre, in 
which the milch cows were kept, was some distance 
from the dwelling-house, and two boys of the family 
slept there to take care of the cows. One night a 
voice came to the mother of the family that the two 
best calves in the byre were at the point of death, and 
as a proof of the warning, she would find the big 
yellow cow dead at the end of the house. This proved 
to be the case, and on reaching the byre the anxious 
woman found her two boys nearly frightened to death. 
They said they heard Fairy dogs trampling and baying 
on the top of the house. 

There is a natural recess in the rocks of the shore at 
Baluaig in Tiree, to which tradition has given the name 
of the Bed of the Fairy Dog. It is not far from 
Crogan beach, already mentioned as a place where the 
Fairy dog was heard, and opposite the Grador, a low- 
water rock over which the sea breaks with terrible 


violence in stormy weather. The loneliness and wild- 
ness of the spot rnight well cause it to be associated 
with tales of superstition. 

A shepherd in Lorn came to the top of a rock, and 
in a nest or lair below him he saw two pups about two 
months old with green backs and sides. They were 
larger and longer than his own dogs. He got afraid 
and fled before the old hound made her appearance. 
His dogs also were afraid. So the tradition says. 

Two men from Mull were engaged building a march 
dyke across the hills in Kintail. To be near their 
work, they took up their residence by themselves in 
a hut among the hills. One night, before retiring to 
rest, they heard a horrible screaming coming in the 
direction of the hut. They went out with sticks of fire- 
wood in their hands. Though they could see nothing, 
they knew some'thing was approaching. The shrieks 
came nearer and nearer, and at last a large dark object 
passed. A little dog, ' Dun-foot ' by name, which 
accompanied the men, gave chase. When it returned 
there was no hair on any part of it but on its ears, and 
no hair ever grew after but a sort of down. 

A number of young men were out at night on the 
moorlands of Cornaigbeg farm in Tiree watching the 
cattle, to keep them from wandering into the crop 
lands. They went to the moss about a mile away for 


peats, which at the time (some sixty years ago) were 
plentiful in Tiree, but becoming in some way alarmed 
they turned back on the road. When returning they 
heard strange noises coming towards them, and a dog 
that accompanied them began to course round and 
round between them and the noise. At last the noise 
passed, with sounds like the trampling of a herd of 
sheep, and the dog went off in pursuit. On its return 
its hair was found scraped off, as if by long sharp nails, 
and the whole skin was left bare and white, except 
where here and there it was torn and bloody. It died 
in a short time after. 

A man in Mull was sent on a journey after nightfall, 
and about midnight, when crossing the hills from Loch 
Tuath (the North Loch) and Loch Cuan {Loch Cumhan, 
the narrow loch), saw a light in the face of a hillock. 
He was accompanied by his dog, and before long he 
heard the noise of dogs fighting, mixed with sounds of 
lovely music. He made off as fast as he could, and, on 
arriving at the house to which he had been sent, was 
offered supper. He was unable to take any. Before 
bed-time his dog came with every hair on its body 
pulled off It smelt its master's clothes all over, lay 
down at his feet, and was dead in a few minutes. 

A gentleman of the name of Evan Cameron (it does 
not appear where) on his way home across the hills 
was overtaken by nightfall and lost his way. He was 
accompanied by a greyhound and three terriers. He 


saw a light in a bothy or hut, used in summer, when 
the cattle were at pasture among the hills, but deserted 
during the greater part of the year. He made towards 
it, and on looking in at the door, saw a woman sitting 
by the fire, all wet, and combing her hair. She looked 
towards him, and said, " Will you not come after your 
eye, Evan ? " {Nach d'thig thu 'n dtigh do shidl, Eoghain). 
" Not just now " (^Cha d'thig an drdsd), he replied. 
After some further conversation he was obliged to allow 
his dogs to attack the strange creature. He himself 
held on his way, and in a few hours reached home. 
The greyhound found its way home, but without any 
hair upon its body. None of the terriers was ever 
heard of more.-*^ 


At Ruig, at the foot of the Storr Rock, in Skye, at 
the time it was occupied by small farmers (sixteen in 
number), all the horses on the farm, numbering as 
many as a hundred, were seen ridden by the Fairies, 
sitting with their faces to the tail, on Hallowmas night. 
The shore line of the farm consists of frightful preci- 
pices, and the horses, as if very madness (an cuthach 
dearg) had taken possession of them, went off at their 
utmost speed towards the shore. Every one thought 

' This creature, haunting the pastures of the cattle, partakes more 
strongly of the character of the Glaistig, afterwards to be described, than of 
the Fairy women. 


they would be lost, but no harm arose after all from the 

Near Killin in Perthshire, a man entered a Fairy 
Knowe, and found inside a woman making porridge. 
The dish boiled so fiercely that a spark from the 
porridge flew and struck him in the eye. He saw the 
Fairies ever after with that eye. At the St. Fillan 
market {Feill Fhaolain) at Killin, he saw them in great 
numbers riding about the market on white horses. 
Meeting one, whom he recognized, he remarked, " What 
a number of you are here to-day.'' The Fairy asked 
which eye he saw ' the folk ' with, and on being told 
put it out. 

A young wife had not, as was customary at that 
time, learned to spin and weave. She tried in every 
way to learn, but try as she might she made no pro- 
gress, till one noon-day she wished some one would 
come to help her. She then saw a woman standing 
in the door, who said she would help her on condition 
that she would give her her first child when born, 
but if she could tell the shi woman's name when 
she came to take away the child she would be free 
from her promise. The young woman rashly agreed 
to this, and in a short time could make do (cloth) 
better than any one around her. After some time, 
however, she began to be afraid her visitor would 
return, and she went about eagerly listening to hear 


the name, when suddenly one day she saw an open- 
ing in a grassy hillock beside her, and on looking in 
saw the same woman standing inside, and heard 
another one calling to her. She went home joyously 
repeating the name all the way, and told her hus- 
band how she heard it. When the Bean ski came 
again, the mother of the child called out to her by 
the name she had heard, and invited her to come in, 
but she only said, " A blessing on the name, but 
banning on the mouth that taught you," and she 
never afterwards darkened the door. 

On another day the husband was with his wife in 
the fields working and looking about, when they saw 
a great company of riders on white horses coming 
where they were, and as they came near one of the 
riders caught hold of her and took her away. Her 
husband did not know what to do. He went wan- 
dering about looking for her, but never finding her, 
till one day, to his great wonderment, he saw a 
glimmer of light on the side of the hill. He reached it, 
and saw an opening. He put a pin in the side and 
went in, and saw a great company feasting and dancing, 
with his lost wife in the middle of the dancers. She 
saw him also, and began to sing loudly : 

" Take no food here lalai o horro horro. 
Ask no drink here lalai o horro hee." 

No one took any notice of him. He got near her, 
and putting his arm around her, whisked her out of 


the circle of dancers. He took her home, but she 
became discontented, and was never the same being 
as she had been before. At last it happened when 
they were again out together that the riders on white 
horses came their way. On parting with him this 
time she said, "If at any time he wished her to come 
back, he was to throw her marriage dress, which had 
craobh uaine, i.e. green tracery on the right shoulder, 
after her when he saw her passing in the company, 
and she would return home." Thinking she did not 
belong to this world, he did nothing, and she passed 
and never returned to him. 


The invention of the handmill or quern, in the 
infancy of the arts, must have formed an era in the 
history of human progress. Whoever first found out a 
handy way of reducing the solid grain into meal 
bestowed an inestimable blessing on the human race. 
The instrument is still to be occasionally met with in 
the Hebrides, in houses not convenient to mill or 
market. It is usually worked by two women, like the 
mills in use in the East. 

" A pair of thick-set hussies 
Winding round a quern."' 

It is a common practice with women to sing at their 

' ' ' Paidhir de na cailean guagach 

Cuir mu'n cuairt na brathuinn-oran. '' 


work, as indeed they did in the Highlands in olden 
times at most of their labours, such as reaping, sowing, 

Old Archibald, for half a century servant to the 
ministers of Tiree, would insist to his dying day that, 
coming home at night with a cart from the parish mill, 
he heard the handmill at work inside the Red Knolls 
(na Cnocana ruadhd) near the road. He could put his 
foot on the very spot where he heard the noise. To 
ask him if he was naturally troubled with singing in 
the ears, or show any other symptom of unbelief, was 
resented as an affront, and neither minister nor elder, 
nor a whole synod, would persuade him there were no 
Fairies. He had heard them himself " with his own 

The man who first got the loan of a quern from the 
Fairies never sent it home. In revenge, the elves took 
away all substance from his crop that year, and he 
derived no benefit from grain or fodder. His is the 
fate of many inventors. The benefit is not immediate. 
It seems the elves had no power but over the year's crop. 

A man in Islay got a loan of oatmeal from the 
Fairies, and when returning it, he, out of gratitude, left 
at the hole, which led to the Fairy residence, and 
where he had been in the habit of getting and leaving 
such loans, more meal than he had borrowed. The 


Fairies are a just race ; they take no more than their 
exact due ; they were offended by more being offered, 
and never after gave that man a loan of meal. 

A kind-hearted woman, the wife of a well-to-do 
farmer in the rugged district of Kingairloch, was one 
day visited by a young woman, a stranger to her, who 
asked for, and got a loan of meal. In answer to the 
housewife's inquiries, the visitor said she came from the 
hillock above the house, on which a rowan-tree, or 
mountain ash, was growing. She wore an upper dress 
like a grey tippet. This event took place shortly 
before Beltane, when ploughing and other farm opera- 
tions were being proceeded with. In a week after 
Grey Tippet came back with the meal, but it was 
barley-meal, and told the good-wife to bless this every 
time she took any of it. This direction was carefully 
attended to, and the meal never got less. One day a 
scatter-brain member of the family asked if that cursed 
barley-meal was never to be done. The next time the 
mistress went to the chest there was no more barley- 

The house of one M'Millan, at the foot of Ben 
ladain in Morvern, a high hill already mentioned for 
its reputation as a Fairy residence, was visited by a 
stranger, a woman, who asked for a loan of meal. She 
said she stayed in that sarne neigbourhood, that the men 
were away just now in Lismore, and that the meal 
would be sent back on their return. This was done in 


due course, as promised, and M'Millan's wife was told 
never to allow any one but herself to bend over the 
chest, in which the meal was kept, and the meal would 
prove inexhaustible. At last, however, when Mrs. 
M'Millan was ill, another opened the chest, and the 
meal disappeared. 

Hector, son of Ferchar, in the Ross of Mull, was an 
easy-going, kind-hearted man, a weaver by trade, who 
would give away the last of his goods to any one he 
saw in distress. So weak was he in this respect, that 
his wife did not care to trust him with anything — 
he was sure to give it away to the first poor man that 
came his way. Having occasion to go to the summer 
pastures in the hill, and leave Hector alone in charge 
of the house, she measured out enough meal to last 
him for the fifteen days she expected to be away, and 
gave it to him in a skin bag. When returning, she 
met a beggar, who said he had got a handful of meal 
from her husband, and Hector himself, when questioned, 
said he had given away sixteen such handfuls. Yet 
the bag was found to be quite full. 


In Mull, a person, encountered by a Bean shhh, was 
told by her that she was kept from doing him harm by 
the iron he had about him. The only iron he had was 
a ring round the point of his walking stick. 

In the North of Ireland, an iron poker, laid across' 


the cradle, kept away the Fairies till the child was 

The writer remembers well that, when a school-bo)^ 
great confidence was put in a knife, of which he was 
the envied possessor, and in a nail, which another boy 
had, to protect us from a Fairy islthche), which was 
said to have made its appearance at a spot near which 
the road to school passed the Hawthorn Bush between 
the Black Nose and the Pass of the Dead {An Crbgan 
Sgithich eadar an t-Srbn du 's Bealach najn Marbfi). 
This was in Appin, Argyllshire. 

The efficacy of iron, in warding off Fairy attacks, 
has already been illustrated. 


The Fairies were building a bridge across Loch 
Rannoch, between Camaghouran and Innis-droighinn, 
when a passer-by wished them God-speed. Instantly 
the work stopped, and was never resumed. (Cf 
page 64.) 

A smith, the poorest workman in his trade, from his 
inferior skill, only got coarse work to do, and was 
known as the " Smith of Ploughshares" {Gobhainn nan 
Soc). He was, besides, the ugliest man, and the rudest 
speaker. One day he fell asleep on a hillock, and 
three Fairy women, coming that way, left him each a 


parting gift {fagail). After that he became the best 
workman, the best looking man, and the best speaker 
in the place, and became known as the " Smith of 
Tales" {Gobhainn nan sgial). 

A man, out hunting, fell asleep in a dangerous place, 
near the brink of a precipice. When he awoke a Fairy- 
woman was sitting at his head, singing gently. 


Donald, who lived in Gortan du in Lorn, was 
working in a drain with a pointed spade. One evening, 
having left the spade standing in the drain, he was 
startled by something striking it with a loud knock. 
He found the noise was made by the blow of a smooth, 
polished, flint-like stone. He put this in his pocket 
and took it home. Some evenings after, " Galium 
Glever," already mentioned as frequently carried about 
by the Fairies, was shown the stone. He declared that 
it had been thrown by himself at the instigation of the 
Fairies, who wanted to take Donald himself Donald 
of Gortan du was a cooper, and was wanted to make a 
barrel for a cow the elves had just killed. (Cf. page 26.) 



The Glaistig was a tutelary being in the shape of a 
thin grey {tana glas) little woman, with long yellow 
hair reaching to her heels, dressed in green, haunting 
certain sites or farms, and watching in some cases over 
the house, in others over the cattle. She is called 'the 
Green Glaistig' {a Ghlaistig uaine) from her wan looks 
and dress of green, the characteristic Fairy colour. She 
is said to have been at first a woman of honourable 
position, a former mistress of the house, who had been 
put under enchantments and now had a Fairy nature 
given her. She disliked dogs, and took fools and 
people of weak intellect under her particular charge. 
She was solitary in her habits, not more than one, 
unless when accompanied by her own young one, being 
found in the same haunt. Her strength was very 
great, much greater than that of any Fairy, and one 
yell of hers was sufficient to waken the echoes of 

156 tutelary" beings. 

distant hills. Strong men were said to have mastered 
her, but ordinarily people were afraid of meeting 
her. She might do them a mischief and leave them 
a token, by which they would have cause to re- 
member the encounter. She made herself generally 
useful, but in many cases was only mischievous and 

She seems in all cases to have had a special interest 
in the cows and the dairy, and to have resented any 
want of recognition of her services. A portion of milk 
was set apart for her every evening, in a hole for the 
purpose in some convenient stone, and unless this was 
done, something was found amiss in the dairy next 
morning. Others left milk for her only when leaving the 
summer pastures for the season. 

She was seldom seen, oftenest when anything was to 
happen to the house she followed. She might then be 
seen, making her way in the evening up the slope to 
the castle, herding the cattle on the pastures, sunning 
herself on the top of a distant rock, or coming to the 
fold at dusk for her allowance of milk. Her cries, 
and the noise she made, arranging the furniture, shout- 
ing after the cattle, or at the approach of joy or sorrow, 
were frequently heard. 

In the south Highlands, the Glaistig was represented 
as a little wan woman, stout and not tall, but very 
strong. In Skye, where most of her .duties were 
assigned to a male deity, the Gruagach, she was said 


to be very tall, 'a lath of a body' like a white reflection 
or shade. 

Her name is derived from glas, grey, wan, or pale- 
green, and sttg, a sneaking or crouching object, probably 
in allusion to her invisibility, noiseless motions, or 
small size. In the Highland Society's Dictionary, she 
is called " a she-devil, or hag, in the shape of a goat," 
and the definition is accepted by M'Leod and Dewar. 
This, however, is a mistake. The shape of a goat, in 
the Highlands as elsewhere, has been assigned to the 
devil only, and there was nothing diabolical, or of the 
nature of an evil spirit, seeking the perdition of man- 
kind, ascribed to the poor Glaistig. She occupied a 
middle position between the Fairies and mankind ; she 
was not a Fairy woman {Bean shitK) but one of human 
race, who had a Fairy nature given to her. The 
Fairies themselves are much nearer in character to the 
race of man than to that of devils. Of course all unearthly 
beings are to be avoided, but of all the beings, with 
which fear or fancy has peopled the unseen world, the 
Glaistig and her near relation the Brownie are among 
the most harmless. 

The house or castle-haunting Glaistig was also 
known by the names of Maighdean skebmbair, i.e. 
chamber-maid, Gruagach, young woman, lit. long-haired 
one, and Gruagach sheombair, 'fille de chambre,' and her 
attachment was not to the family but to the site or 
stance {laracti). It was always the abodes of the 


affluent in which she resided, and she continued 
her occupancy after a change of tenants, and even after 
the building was deserted and had become a nesting 
place for wild birds. In olden times there was a per- 
petuity of tenure enjoyed by large tenants, and it is not 
surprising that writers have fallen into the mistake of 
supposing the tutelary guardian of the house to be that 
of its tenants. The Glaistig had sympathy with the 
tenant so far, that she broke out into loud expressions 
of joy or sorrow, or made her appearance more 
frequently when happiness or misfortune were to come 
upon the family ; but her real attachment was to the 
building or site. Indeed, none of these beings of 
superstition were tutelary to the human race, or had 
anything about them of the character of the Genius or 
SaifjLwv. When the house was to be levelled, even 
though the family remained on the land, and a new 
house (on another site) was built, the Glaistig made a 
lamentable outcry, left, and was never afterwards seen 
or heard. Her usual occupation consisted in "putting 
things in order " at night, sweeping the floor, drawing 
chairs and tables about, and arranging the furniture. 
After the household had retired to rest, she was heard 
at work in apartments that were locked, and in which 
no human being could be. It was then known there 
would shortly be an arrival of strangers. In the morn- 
ing the furniture was found in most cases untouched or 
disarranged. In other cases the house was found tidied 


up, and work which had been left for the Glaistig, such as 
washing, was found finished. She was fond of working 
with the spinning wheel, and, according to some, it was 
to prevent her coming to the house, and working with 
it on Sundays that old women were careful to take off 
the band every Saturday night. She had a similar 
fondness for working with tradesmen's tools, and 
artizans were often much annoyed at hearing her 
working at night, and finding in the morning their 
tools spoiled or mislaid. When the servants neglected 
their work or spoke disrespectfully of herself, or did 
anything to her favourites, she played pranks to punish 
them. She knocked down the water-stoups, disar- 
ranged the bedclothes, put dust in the meat, led the 
objects of her resentment a fool's chase about the house, 
or in the dark gave them a slap to be remembered on 
the side of the head. When happiness or misfortune, a 
marriage or a death, was to occur in the household, 
she was heard rejoicing or wailing long before the event 

It was, however, to the being of this class, that 
haunted the folds of the cattle, that the name of 
Glaistig is most commonly given. Her occupation 
consisted in a general superintendence of the sheep, 
cows, and horses of the farm. When the family was at 
dinner, or the herdsman had fallen asleep and neglected 
his charge, she kept the cattle out of mischief; and,, 
though not seen, was heard shouting after them, and 


driving them to their proper pastures. In this respect, 
she behaved like an old and careful herdsman. If the 
cows were not clean milked, she punished the dairy-maid 
by some unchancy prank. At night she kept the 
calves from the cows (a needful and useful occupation 
before the days of enclosures and plentiful farm 
accommodation), and its substance in the milk. In 
summer she accompanied the cattle to the hill pastures, 
and there had her portion of milk duly poured out for 
her in the evening in a stone near the fold. Unless 
this was done the calves were found next morning with 
the cows, the cream not risen from the milk, a cow was 
found dead, or some other mischance occurred. She was 
not supposed ever to enter a house, but to stay in some 
ravine {eas) near a Fairy residence. She disliked dogs 
very much, and if a present of shoes or clothes were 
made to her, she was offended and left. She is not 
generally spoken of as appearing in any shape but her 
own, but in some localities and tales, is said to assume 
the shape of a horse as 'old grey mare,' and even of a 

The Glaistig resembled the Fairies in being invisible, 
and in having a noiseless gliding motion ; in her dislike 
of dogs ; in affecting green in her dress ; in being 
addicted to meddling at night with the spinning wheel 
and tradesmen's tools ; in her outcries being a pre- 
monition of coming events ; in being kept away by 
steel, and in her ability to give skill in handicrafts to 


her favourites. The Fairies bestowed this skill on 
those who had the Ceaird-Choinuinn, or association 
craft, i.e. the assistance of the Folk. The Glaistig gave 
the choice of ' ingenuity without advantage ' {ealdhain 
gun rath) or ' advantage without ingenuity ' {rath gun 
ealdhain). Those who chose the former proved clever 
workmen but never prospered ; and those who chose 
the latter turned out stupid fellows who made fortunes. 

She differed in being more akin to ordinary women 
than the true Fairy wife (Bean shitJi) ; she was 
stronger, and as it were more substantial ; it was true 
woman's work which, as chamber-maid or dairy-maid, 
she performed. Though her ' bed ' was near a Fairy 
dwelling, and she could command the services of the 
Elves, she did not engage in Fairy employments or 
recreations. The Fairies punished people of a dis- 
contented, grumbling disposition, by taking away the 
substance of their goods. The Glaistig was also 
offended at littleness and meanness of mind, but mean- 
ness of a different kind. Those who looked down on 
fools and people of weak intellect, or ill-treated them, 
she paid off by putting dust or soot in their meat. 
Akin to this was her punishment of neglect in servants. 

In some parts of the Highlands the Glaistig is called 
Glaisrig. The name of her young one is MMleachan, 
a name probably derived from its bleating or whimper- 
ing after the old one. It is also called Isein, a chicken, 
and Gocan, a little plug. 


The being which attached herself to the farm-house 
of Achindarroch {Acha-nan-darack, field of oaks) in 
Glenduror, Appin, Argyleshire, was variously known as 
the Glaistig and as the Gruagach of Glenduror. She 
attended to the cattle, and took particular charge of 
keeping the calves from the cows at night. She 
followed the house (not the family), and was alive not 
many years ago. A portion of milk was poured out 
for her every evening on a stone called Clach na 
Glaistig (the Glaistig stone), and once this was 
neglected by a new tenant, the calves were found next 
morning with the cows. Her face was described by 
those who professed to have seen her, as being like a 
grey stone overgrown with lichens. A servant girl, 
going on a dark evening to draw water from a stream 
flowing past the house, was asked by her fellow-servants 
if she was not afraid of the Glaistig. In her reply she 
spoke contemptuously of that being, and on her way to 
the stream received a slap on the cheek that twisted 
her head to one side. The following evening, going on 
the same errand, she got a slap on the other cheek that 
put her head right.-' 

The Glaistig attached to this house on Loch 
Faschan-side in Lorn was known as Nic-ille-mhicheil 

^ The same incident is related of the Sron-Charmaig Glaistig. 


[i.e. a woman of the surname of Carmichael), and was 
said to have been a former mistress of the house. She 
lived in a ravine, called Eas-ronaich, near the mansion, 
and when any misfortune was about to befall the family 
set up a loud wailing. On sunny days she was to be 
seen basking on the top of Creag Ghrianach (the Sunny 
Rock), also in the neighbourhood. Before the old 
house was levelled, and the present mansion was built, 
she set up an unusually loud wailing, and then left. 
Fully a year before the event, she seemed greatly dis- 
turbed ; her step up and down stairs, and the noise 
of chairs and tables being moved about was frequently 
heard after people had gone to bed. At Glen-Iuchair, 
a man, who was in the evening convoyed across the 
glen by a grey sheep, was firmly of opinion his strange 
convoy could have been no other than Nic-ille-mhicheil. 
No real sheep could have been so attentive to him. 
This attachment to particular individuals was also 
shown in the case of a poor old woman, named Mbr 
(i.e. Sarah), resident on the farm. When Mor fell sick, 
the Glaistig used to come to the window and wail 

One evening at the cattle-fold, after the cows had 
been milked and before the herd and dairy-maids had 
started home with the milk-pails, a woman, dressed in 
green, was seen coming and trying the udders of the 
cows, as if to see whether they had been properly 
milked. The herd had his dog with him, and happened 


at the time to be sitting with it in his arms. The dog 
sprang from him and gave chase, and the woman fled 
like a bird. This was at a place called Doire nan Each, 
' the Wood of the Horses,' several miles from the 
mansion, and the woman was believed to be Nic-ille- 


This mansion-house has long been haunted by a 
Glaistig known as the ' Maiden of Inverawe ' {^Maigh- 
dean Inbher-athd), who was to be heard (at least till 
very recently) rustling {srannail) through the house. 
Stoups full of water, left in the house at night, were found 
in the morning upset by her, and chairs, left however 
neatly arranged, were turned round. She is said to have 
been some former mistress of the house who had proved 
unfaithful and had been buried alive. 


This castle {Dim-sta' innis), once a seat of the kings 
of Scotland, was haunted by a woman known as the 
Sianag (or Elle-maid) of Dunstaffnage. She broke 
into outcries of joy or sorrow {inulad no aighear), 
according as a happy or unfortunate event was to befall 
the inmates. A stranger, who accompanied one of the 
servants to the castle and remained there that night, 
had his bedclothes twice pulled off by her, and heard 


her all night walking through the room and in the 
adjoining passages. Her footsteps were heavy like 
those of a man. 


A Gruagach haunted the ' Island House ' ( Tigh an 
Eilein, so called from being at first surrounded with 
water), the principal residence in the island, from time 
immemorial till within the present century. She was 
never called Glaistig, but Gruagach and Gruagach 
mhara (sea-maid) by the islanders. Tradition repre- 
sents her as a little woman with long yellow hair, but a 
sight of her was rarely obtained. She staid in the 
attics, and the doors of the rooms in which she was 
heard working were locked at the time. She was heard 
putting the house in order when strangers were to 
come, however unexpected otherwise their arrival might 
be. She pounded the servants when they neglected 
their work. 


The Glaistig of the old Castle of Sleat {Sleibhte, 
mountain pastures), once the residence of the Lords of 
the Isles, was often seen at dusk standing near the 
Gruagach stone, where her allowance of milk was 
placed. Her appearance was that of a young woman 
with long hair. 


The Glaistig that haunted old Breacacha Castle, the 
family seat of the MacLeans of Coll, was in size ' like a 
lump of a lassie ' {cnapach caileig), and had white hair 
like a tuft of flax {gibeag lln), as long as herself She 
put the house in order when strangers were to come, 
and guests getting up through the night were led 
astray by her, so that they could not find their way 
back to bed again. Indeed, she is even accused of 
maltreating strangers, while she let those she knew 

The Glaistig of this castle made herself very useful. 
The family washing had only to be left for her at night 
and it was done before morning. Glimpses of her were 
seen in the evening on her way up to the castle. 
During the night she tidied up the house and swept the 
floors. The fool (amadan) attached to the castle was 
taken under her special protection, and he often had his 
meat clean when others had it full of ' stour.' 

This ancient ruin is on the summit of a conical rock, 
above a hundred feet high, close to the shore, in Glen 
Sanda, on the Kingerloch coast. About three or four 
hundred feet from it there is a beautiful and curious 
echo. A call of eight or nine syllables is distinctly 


repeated from the castle after the speaker has ceased. 
The only reminiscence of the castle's former tenants is 
the call usually given, when rousing the echo, " Are you 
in, maiden ?" {Am bheil thu stigh a mhatghdean ?) The 
maiden is the tutelary Glaistig that haunted all such 


The Gruagach or Glaistig that haunted the house of 
Mac 'ic Alasdair (the patronymic of the chiefs of Glen- 
garry), in Strathglass, was never seen, but was commonly 
heard at night putting dishes in order. She was given, 
like many of her sort in the old hospitable Highland 
days, to leading strangers astray through the house. A 
shepherd from Morvern came some forty years ago to 
the neighbourhood, and the Glaistig took a great fancy 
to staying with him. He suffered a great deal of 
annoyance from her, though no ultimate loss. If he 
left his jacket on the paling {staing) to dry, it might be 
away the first time he went to look for it, but the next 
time he might, and ultimately would, find it all safe. 
At times cheese disappeared for a while from the 
' amry.' At night the shepherd felt the coverlet being 
hauled off, and heard the Glaistig giggling, with a short 
sort of laugh, hi, hi, hi. 

He might leave their calves all night with the two 
cows he owned, the Glaistig kept them from sucking. 
Before being reconciled to her he tried to keep her 


away by putting the New Testament above the door 
and round the walls, but without effect. A party of 
young men came one evening to hear the mysterious 
noises. They saw and heard nothing till they were 
going away. The pot was then lifted off the fire 
without any visible agency and left on the floor ; while 
they themselves had their eyes nearly knocked out at 
the door with tough clods from the marsh {pluic ruig- 
hinn riisg). 


A strong man of the name of Kennedy or MacCuaric,i 
residing at Lianachan in Lochaber, was coming home 
in the evening from setting a salmon net in the river 
when a Glaistig met him on the bank of the stream. 
He locked his arms round her {gklas e lamhun), took 
her with him to the house, and would not let her go 
till she built for him a large barn of six couples {sia 
suidheachun). This she did in one night. As her 
parting gift she left a blessing and a curse to the 
MacCuarics, that they should grow like rushes but 
wither like ferns. This proved to be the case — the 
man's family grew up tall, and straight, and handsome, 
but when they attained their full strength and growth 
they wasted prematurely away. 

The following is a close translation of a much fuller 

^Both names have the same meaning, being derived from a kind of head- 
dress (ceann-eididk, cuaraig) peculiar to the clan. 

THE GLAlSriG. 169 

and slightly different version of the legend (see volume 
of Gaelic poems called An Duanaire, p. 123). The 
Gaelic is not given as the volume is easily accessible. 
It is a pity that the author of the piece, if known to 
the collector, is not given. 

" One night the big black lad MacCuaric was going 
home from the smithy; the Glaistig met him as he was 
crossing Curr at the ford of Croisg : 

" Hail to thee, Big Black Lad, said she, 
Would you be the better of a rider behind ? 
Yes, and a rider before, said he ; 
And he gave her a little big lift 
From the bare beach, 
And tied her before him. 
Safely and surely, 

On the back of the mettlesome horse. 
With the wizard belt of Fillan ; 
And he swore and asseverated 
Vehemently and stubbornly. 
He would not let her whole from his grasp. 
Till he showed her before men. 

Let me go, said she, and I will give 
For loss and damage, 
A fold full of speckled cattle, 
White-bellied, black, white-headed, 
Success on hill and in company 
To yourself and your sort after you. 

That is mine in spite of you, said he, 
And it suffices not to set you free. 

Let me go, and I will leave your land, 
Where in the knoll I stayed ; 
And I will build thee to-night. 
On yonder field, 
A big, strong, dike house, 


A house fire will not pierce, 

Water, nor arrow, nor iron, 

And will keep thee dry and comfortable, 

Without dread, or fear, and charmed 

Against poison, caterans, and fairies. 

Fulfil your words, said he, 
And from me get your leave. 

She gave a shriek with wailing. 
That was heard over seven hills ! 
It seemed as if the Horn of Worth, 
Owned by Fionn, had whistled. 
Every Fairy dwelling and beetling cliff 
Wakened and echoed, 
And ' they ' gathered round the meadow, 
Waiting her orders. 

She set them to work speedily, 
Calmly, orderly. 

And they brought flags and stones 
From the shore of Clianaig waterfall, 
Reaching them from hand to hand ; 
From the Knoll of Shore Islet 
Were cut beams and rafters ; 
And supports long. 

Straight, and thick, in the Rowan wood ; 
While she herself unceasing said 

One stone above two stones. 
And two stones above one stone. 
Fetch stake, clod, thatching pin. 
Every timber in the wood 
But mulberry ; 

Alas for him, who gets not as he sows, 
And sows not as he gets ! 

And at the grey dawning 
There was divot on the roof. 
And smoke from it ! 

He kept the coulter in the fire, 
To keep him from mischance. 
Since he knew the pranks 


And enchantments of the Fairies. 

When the house was now finished 
And she had made up each loss, 
He loosened the maid 
And suffered no harm. 

Going past the window in front 
She stretched him her crooked palm 
To bid him farewell, — 
But (truly) to take him to the sh'ien. 
The skin of her palm stuck to it (the coulter) ; 
She sprang then on a grey stone 
Of the Field, to pronounce his doom. 

She brought the curse of the people on him, 
And the curse of the goblins, 
And if we may believe as we hear, 
She obtained her request. 
' Grow like rushes. 

Wither like fern, 

Turn grey in childhood. 

Change in height of your strength ; 
I ask not a son may not succeed. 

I am the sorrowing Glaistig 
That staid in the land of the Meadow, 
I built a big house on the Field, 
Which caused a sore pain in my side ; 
I will put out my heart's blood, 
High on the peak of Finisgeig, 
Which will be red for evermore.' 

And she leapt in a green flame. 
Over the shoulder of the peak." ^ 

The Glaistig, living at the waterfall {eas) of Bo- 
chaoil in Glenorchy, came behind a man of the name 

^ The last two lines suggest this to be a modern composition, and not a 
popular tradition. Supernatural beings do not go away in flames in 
Highland superstition. 


of Campbell, riding home in the evening to the ad- 
joining farm-house, and jumping up behind him, urged 
the horse to greater speed by crying now and then, 
" Hoosh ! for a horse with two " {Huts ! air each le 
dithis). Campbell put back his hands and caught her. 
He was going to take her home, but she managed 
to get away, and left as her parting gift, that no 
Campbell should ever be born alive {nach gineadh 's 
nach goireadh CairnbeulacK) above Bo-chaoil. 

The water before breaking over the fall is curiously 
split by an unseen pinnacle of the rock, and the Glaistig 
is said to cause the appearance with her foot. 


The Cnap (that is, the Lump) is opposite Shuna 

Island in Appin, and the name still remains in Tigh 

a Chnaip (the house of the Lump), the Gaelic name of 

BalachuHsh hotel on the road to Glencoe, well-known 

to tourists. It was regarding the ownership of Knap 

by the M'Millans that the oral charter ran : 

" M'Millan's right to Knap 
While wave strikes rock."' 

A Glaistig once came behind a kilted chief of this 
sept and caught him, so that he could not struggle 
or escape. She asked him if he had ever been in 
greater straits {Mhic Mhaoil a Chnaip, an robh thu 

' " Coir Mhic-Mhaoilein air a Chnap, 
Fhads' a bhuaileas tonn air creig." 


riamh an aire is mb ?). He said he had ; she asked 
when ; and he said, " Between plenty and penury " 
{Eadar fiill is aimbeairt). On this she let go her 
hold. He said, " I give my word I will not be weighed 
on the same scales again," ^ and stabbing her with his 
dirk killed her. 

A weaver, going home in the evening with a web 
{corn) of cloth on his shoulder, was met by a Glaistig 
at a stream. She caught hold of him and pummelled 
him {lad i e) all night in the stream with his own 
web of cloth, saying to all his remonstrances, " Weaving 
weaver, you are the better of being washed " {Fig- 
keadair figke, ' s fhearrd' thu do nigheadK). 

The lonely and rugged mountain tract, known as 
the Garlics {Garbh-shlios, the rough country side), 
extending along the coast of Morvern, from the Sound 
of Mull to Kingairloch, a distance of about seven miles, 
was at one time haunted by a Glaistig, whose special 
employment was the herding {buachailleachd^ of the 
sheep and cattle that roamed over its desert pastures. 
Tradition represents her as a small, but very strong 
woman, taking refuge at night in a particular yew tree 
{craobh iuthair), which used to be pointed out, to 

' Bheir mise mo bhriathrun, nach d' theid mis' air na sgalun ciadna rithis. 


protect herself from wild animals that prowled over 
the ground. In a cave in the same locality lived a 
man, known as 'Yellow Dougall of the Cave' {Diighaill 
Buidhe na h-Uamh), who supported himself and wife 
by taking a sheep or goat, when he required it, from 
the neighbouring flocks.^ One day when about to 
row himself across to the opposite island of Lismore, 
in his coracle {curachari), a woman came and asked for 
a passage. She took the bow oar, and before long 
cried out, " A hearty pull, Dougall " {Hiig orra, Dhu- 
ghaill.) " Another hearty pull then, honest woman " 
{Hugan so eiV orra, bhean choir), cried Dougall. Every 
now and then she repeated the same cry, and Dougall 
answered in the same way. He thought himself a 
good rower, and was ashamed to be beat by a woman. 
He never rowed so hard in his life. When the boat 
touched the Lismore shore, he for the first time turned 
round his head, and no woman was anywhere to 
be seen. She who was so strong and disappeared so 
mysteriously could only be the Glaistig. 

Other accounts say that the boatman was Selvach 
Mac Selvach {Sealbhach Mac Shealbhaich), a native of 
Lismore, and the woman against whom he pulled for 

^ It was said of Dougall, that when he wanted a sheep he drove a whole 
flock through a particular gap in the rocks, while his wife stood in waiting 
to catch the animal fixed upon. Once she allowed this sheep to pass, and 
Dougall asked her what she meant. " How," she said, "could I take the 
sheep of my own godfather?" (goistidh). Dougall replied, "The man might 
be your godfather, but the sheep was not your godfather. " 


the three miles from Kingairloch to Lismore, a Glaistig 
that stayed in the ravine of Alltaogain in the latter 
place. Her cry was, " Pull away, Selvach " {Hiig orra, 
Skealbhaich), and his answer, " Pull away, my lass " 
{Hiig orra, gkalad.") 

The Glaistig that followed the house of Lamont at 
Ardnadrochit (the height of the bridge), in Craignure 
parish, Mull, was commonly seen in the shape of a 
dog, and was said to carry a pup at the back of her 
head. A band came across from Lorn, the opposite 
mainland, to 'lift' Lament's cattle. The Glaistig, 
whose charge they were, drove them up the hill out of 
the way to a place called Meall na Lire. Here, in a 
dell called 'the Heroes' Hollow' {Glaic nan GaisgeacK), 
the freebooters were like to overtake her. On seeing 
this, she struck the cows, and converted them into grey 
stones, which are to be seen to this day. On coming 
up, the plunderers stood at these stones, 'and one of 
them, tapping with his broadsword the stone near him, 
said he felt sure this was the bed of the white cow 
{Bo bhdn). On his saying this, the tap of his sword 
split the stone in two. The Glaistig broke her heart, 
and was afterwards taken by Lamont and buried in a 
small plot of ground near the Sound of Mull, where 
in those days the bodies of unbaptized children were 



The tenants of this farm once got the benefit of 
seven years' superintendence of their cattle from a 
Giaistig. There is a place on the farm, still called the 
Glaistig's Bed, where she died by falling in the gap of 
a dyke. She was seldom seen, but was often heard. 
When driving the horses to pasture, she called out, 
" Get along, get along, thou son of a mare ! Betake 
thee to yonder white bank!" and when the herd-boy 
was at his dinner, she was heard shouting to the cattle, 
" Horo va ho whish ! Did ever any one hear of cattle 
without a herdsman but these?" She prepared food 
for herself by dragging a bunch of eels (of which there 
is an over-abundance in the small lochs on the farm) 
through the fire-place of a kiln used for preparing corn 
for the hand-mill. One night, when engaged at this 
work along with Goean {i.e. a perky little fellow), her 
son as is supposed, some one came behind and gave 
her a rap on the head with a stick. She and her son 
fled, and as they were going away, Goean was over- 
heard saying to his mother, " Your old grey pate has 
been rapped, but see that you have the bunch of 

In appearance, this Giaistig is said to have been a 
thin sallow-looking little object, with ringletted yellow 
hair that reached down to her heels. She had short 
legs, and in person was not unlike a dwarf. 


An incident similar to that of the bunch of eels is 
told of a Glaistig that came at nights and worked in 
the smithy at Strontian. The smith was very much 
annoyed at the noises in the smithy at night, and at 
finding in the morning tools mislaid and the smithy in 
confusion. He resolved to stay up and find out the 
cause. He stood in the dark, behind the door, with the 
hammer on his shoulder ready to strike whatever should 
enter. The Glaistig came to the door, accompanied by 
her bantling, or Jsein {i.e. a young chicken). The chicken 
thought he heard a noise^ and said, " Something moving, 
little woman." " Hold your tongue, wretch," she said, 
" it is only the mice." At this point the smith struck 
the old one on the head with his hammer, and caught 
hold of the little one. On this, the Isein reproached his 
mother by saying, " Your old grey pate has got a 
punching ; see now if it be the mice." Before the 
smith let his captive go, the Glaistig left a parting gift 
— that the son should succeed the father as smith in 
the place till the third generation. This proved to be 
the case, and the last was smith in Strontian some forty 
years ago. 

About a hundred years ago one of the tenants of 
this farm, which adjoins Baugh, wondering what 
made his cows leave the fank (or enclosure) every 


night, resolved to watch. He built a small turf hut 
near the fold to pass the night in, and sat mending his 
curain (shoes or mocassins of untanned hides), when a 
woman came to the door. Suspicious of her being an 
earthly visitant, he stuck his awl in the door-post to 
keep her out. She asked him to withdraw the awl and 
let her in, but he refused. He asked her questions 
which much troubled him at the time. He was afraid 
of a conscription, which was then impending, and he 
asked if he would have to go to the army. The 
Glaistig said he would ; that though he made a hole in 
the rock with his awl and hide himself in it, he would 
be found out and taken away, but if he succeeded in 
mounting a certain black horse before his pursuers 
came, he might bid them defiance ; and he was to tell 
the wife who owned the white-faced yellow cow to let 
the produce of the cows home to their master. The 
man was caught when jumping on the back of the 
black horse to run away from the conscription, and 
after service abroad, came back to tell the tale. 


The Glaistig of Ardnacallich, the residence of the 
Macquarries of Ulva, used to be heard crying " Ho-h6 ! 
ho-ho ! Macquarries' cattle are in the standing corn 
near the cave ! The bald girl has slept ! the bald girl 
has slept ! ho-ho, ho-h6." The ' bald girl ' was no 
doubt a reference to her own plentiful crop of hair. 


The common of this Island is called Staonnaig, and 
in former times the cattle of the east and west end 
people of the place came to it in summer for fourteen 
days alternately. In those days a Glaistig stayed in a 
hole of the rocks in Staonnaig, and the people, when at 
the summer pastures {airidJt) poured milk every night 
in a stone for her. She once entered on a very rainy 
day a house where there was a woman of the name of 
Livingstone alone and at dinner. She dried herself at 
the fire, holding her clothes spread out, and turning 
round from side to side, Her clothes took fire, and 
she left as her parting gift, that no fire can be kindled 
at dinner-time by a woman of the name of Livingstone. 


A herd in this district, whenever he moved the cattle 
at night, heard a voice shouting after him, " Son of big 
black John, there is a cow behind you" {Mhic Iain 
du Mkoir, tha bo dd dheighimi). He shouted in reply, 
"If there is one behind there are a hundred before" 
(^Ma tha h-aon am dke'igk, tha ceud romhani). 

Neil, who lived in Saor-bheinn, went to fish on the 
rocks. Coming home in the dusk of the evening, a 
voice (that of the Glaistig) followed him begging for a 
fish. " Give me a cuddy fish, Neil " ( Thoir' dhomh 
cudainn, a N^il). This occurred every evening, and if 


he gave a fish the Glaistig became more and more 
importunate, and one by one, to get rid of her solicita- 
tions, the fish were given away, the last at the door. 
In this way, Neil often returned empty-handed from 
the fishing. 

Hector, son of Ferchar, lived at Hoodie-crow Hillock 
{Cnoc na Feannaig), and as was common in olden times, 
the door of his house was made of bunches of heather, 
tied together, and made more wind-tight by straw 
stuffed between them. One cold frosty night he heard 
a scraping at the door, as if some animal were trying 
to pull out the straw. He rose and went out, and 
drove away an old white horse he found nibbling at 
the straw. In a while he was disturbed again by the 
same noise. He went out, and, taking up a big stick, 
chased away the old white mare. When he almost 
overtook her, the mare became a woman, and, laughing 
at Hector, said, " I have played a trick upon you, 
Hector, son of Ferchar.'' 

The Glaistig of Coire-na-sheanchracli, a valley on the 
Mull coast, half way up the sound between that island 
and the mainland, met a poor fisherman of the neigh- 
bourhood every evening, when he came ashore from the 
fishing and always got a fish for herself One evening 
he caught nothing but lithe, and when the Glaistig 
came and looked at them, she said, " They are all lithe 


to-night, Murdoch." Whatever offence was taken by 
her in consequence she never came any more. 

This man {Mac Iain Ghiarr), whose name is pro- 
verbial in the West Highlands for that of a master 
thief, was one of the Mac lans of Ardnamurchan, a 
persecuted race. He had a boat for going on his 
thieving expeditions painted black on one side and 
white on the other, so that those who saw it passing 
would not recognize it on its return. Hence the pro- 
verb : 

" One side black and one side grey, 
Like Mac Ian Year's boat." 

Many tales are told of his skill in thieving, and the 
accomplishment is said to have been bestowed upon 
him by a Glaistig. 

He and his brother Ronald (his own name was 
Archibald) were out hunting, and having killed a roe, 
took it to a bothy and prepared it for supper. He 
threw himself on a bed of heather, and Ronald sat by 
the fire, roasting pieces of the roe on his dirk. A 
woman entered the hut, and made an effort now and 
then to snatch from him some of the roasted flesh. 
Ronald threatened, unless she kept over her paw (sail), 
he would cut it off with his knife. She appealed to 
Archibald, " Ho, Archibald, will you not put a stop to 
Ronald?" " I will put a stop to him, poor creature," he 


said. He told Ronald to allow the poor woman, that 
they had plenty, and perhaps she was hungry. When 
leaving, the Glaistig asked him to the door, and it is 
supposed then bestowed upon him his wonderful gift of 
theft. He built a large byre when he had not a single 
'hoof to put in it, and before long it was amply 
stocked. He hired the Glaistig to herd for him, and 
she was to be heard at night on the tops of the cliffs 
crying " Ho ho, ho ho," to keep the cattle from wander- 
ing too near the verge. Her wages were to be a pair 
of brogues of untanned leather, and when she got these, 
like the rest of her kind, she disappeared. She seems, 
however, only to have returned to her former haunts, 
which extended all over Ardnamurchan, from the Point 
to LtDch Sunart. When her former master died, she 
gave a shriek that roused the echoes of Ben Resipol 
{R^iscapol). The same night she was seen in the 
Coolin hills in Skye, and after that neither her shadow 
nor her colour (a du no dath) were anywhere seen. 

During her period of service with Mac Ian Year, 
she made her appearance whenever he raised his 
standard, however far away she might be. Ronald's 
dog had a great aversion to her, and chased her 
whenever she came near. She was then to be heard 
calling out, " Ho, Archibald, will you not call off 
the dog ? " {Ho, Laspuig, nach caisg thu 'n cii P), — a 
common phrase in Ardnamurchan and the small isles 
to this day. 


It is related of her, that to escape from her 
attentions, Mac Ian Year and his brother resolved 
to remove to the Outer Hebrides. They had barely 
kindled a fire in their new dwelling, when the Glaistig 
called down the chimney they had forgot the old 
harrow, but she had brought it, and that she was 
only on the top of the Coolin Hills when the first 
clink [snag) was given to the flint to kindle the 
fire. There was nothing for it but to return to 


At Erray {an Eirbhe, the outlying part of a farm^), 
near Tobermory, there was a Glaistig that paid atten- 
tion principally to the barn. The herd slept in the 
byre, and he often heard trampling itartaraich) in 
the adjoining barn. Whatever had been left there at 
night was found in the morning all in confusion, 
topsy-turvy (turrach air tharrach), one leg over the 
other {cas niu seadi). All this was the Glaistig's work. 

The Glaistig of Fernach on Loch Awe side conveyed 
persons of the name of M'Intyre across a dangerous 
stream in the neighbourhood. She assumed the shape 
of a foal. 

^ This story of Glaistig officiousness is an appropriation of a floating tale 
that had its origin long previous to Mac Ian Year's time. 

^In olden times a wall (of turf) was commonly built to separate the crop 
land from the hill ground, and was known as Gh-adh bragh'd, or Upper 
Wall. The ground above the Gdradh bragh^d was known as the Eirbhe. 



Gruagach, i.e. long-haired one, from gruag, a wig, is 

a common Gaelic name for a maiden, a young woman. 

In old tales and poems, particularly those relating to 

the times of Murchard Mac Brian, who was king of 

Ireland circ. A.D. i lOO, the term means a chief or some 

person of consequence, probably a young chief Thus, 

in a conversation between that king and a young 

woman, whose nine silk-clad brothers he had killed in 

battle, she says : 

" I am daughter of the heir of Dublin, 
I would not hide it, lord of swords. 
And to the Gruagach of the Isle of Birds, 
I, in truth, bore my children."^ 

The name evidently refers to the length of the hair, 
which it seems to have been a custom in ancient times 
for men of rank and freemen to allow to grow long. 

In Argyllshire, and commonly in Gaelic, the name 
Gruagach, applied to the tutelary being haunting farms 
and castles, means the same as Glaisiig, and the idea 
attached to it is that of a long-haired female, well- 
dressed like a gentlewoman, looking after the servants, 
and particularly after the cattle. In parts of Skye, 
however, the fold-frequenting Gruagach is a tall young 
man, with long yellow hair, in the attire of a gentleman 

' " Inghean oighre Bhaile-cliath 
Cha cheilinn a thriath nan lann, 
'S do Ghruagach Eilein nan eun, 
'S ann a rug mi fein mo chlann." 


of a bygone period, having a little switch [slatag) in his 
hand, and with a white breast, as if he wore a frilled 
shirt. One of the writer's authorities described him as 
in appearance like a young man fashionably dressed in 
a long coat and knee breeches, with a white breast like 
that of a frilled shirt, and having a cane in his hand. 
He had even heard that the Gruagach wore a beaver 
hat — a head-dress which in the Highlands was at one 
time believed to indicate a gentleman. 

This Gruagach was attentive to the herds and kept 
them from the rocks. He frequented certain places in 
the fields where the cattle were. A Gruagach was to 
be found in every gentleman's fold {buaile), and, like the 
Glaistig, milk had to be set apart for him every evening 
in a hollow in some particular stone, called the Grua- 
gach stone {Clach na GruagaicK), kept in the byres. 
Unless this was done no milk was got at next milking, 
or the cream would not rise to the surface of the milk. 
Some say milk was placed in the Gruagach stone only 
when going to and returning from the summer pastures 
and when passing with milk. 

The Gruagach amused himself by loosing the cattle 
in the byre at night, and making people get out of bed 
several times to tie them up. The cattle loosened did 
not fright or gore one another, as they did when they 
broke loose themselves or were untied by another 
person. On entering the byre, the Gruagach was heard 
laughing and tittering in corners. Beyond this diver- 


sion he seems to have been ordinarily harmless. He 
sometimes walked alongside of people, but was never 
known to speak. 

A woman was driving calves into the byre at Tota 
Roam in Scorrybreck. The Gruagach amused himself 
inside by keeping them out. The woman, in a great rage, 
hastily cursed him. He gave her a slap on the cheek 
and killed her. All that night, however, he kept the 
fire alive for the woman that sat up watching the body. 

Dr. Johnson mentions a ' Greogaca ' in Troda, an 
islet off the east coast of Skye. This Gruagach seems 
long since to have disappeared, but old people say the 
place is a very likely one for a being of the class to be 
in. At Holm, East-side, and Scorrybreck, near Portree, 
the stones, where the libations were poured out, may 
still be seen. 

In Braes, the Gruagach that followed the herds was 
a young woman with long hair ; she was also known 
as the Glaistig, and the rock, in which her portion of 
milk was poured, is in Macqueen's Big Rock {Creagan 
na Glaistig an creag mhor Mhic Cuinii). 

The term Brunaidh, signifying a supernatural being, 
haunting the abodes of the affluent and doing work for 
the servants, seems to have made its way into the 
Highlands only in recent times and along with south 
country ideas. It is generally applied only to a big. 


corpulent, clumsy man, ' a fine fat fodgel wight,' and 
in many districts has no other reference. Its derivation 
is Teutonic and not Celtic, and Brownies are mostly 
heard of in places to which, as in the south of Argyll- 
shire, southern ideas have penetrated, or where, as in 
the Orkneys and Shetland, a Teutonic race is settled. 

In the islet of Cara, on the west of Cantyre, the old 
house, once belonging to the Macdonalds, was haunted 
by a Brownie that drank milk, made a terrific outcry 
when hurt, and disliked the Campbell race. In the old 
castle of Largie, on the opposite coast of Cantyre, which 
belonged to the same Macdonalds, there was also a 
Brownie, supposed to be the same as the Cara one. 
Since the modern house was built Brownie has not been 
seen or heard. In Cara he is still occasionally heard. 
It is not known exactly what he is like, no one having 
ever seen more than a glimpse of him. Before the 
arrival of strangers he put the house in order. He 
disliked anything dirty being left in the house for the 
night. Dirty bed-clothes were put out by him before 
morning. Dogs had to be put outside at night, as he 
often killed those left in the house. He was much 
addicted to giving slaps in the dark to those who soiled 
the house ; and there are some still alive who can 
testify to receiving a slap that left their faces black. 
He tumbled on the floor water-stoups left full over-night. 
A man was lifted out of bed by him, and found him- 
self 'bare naked,' on awakening, at the fire. A woman. 


going late in the evening for her cows, found Brownie 
had been before her, and tied them securely in the barn. 

In one of the castles in the centre of Argyllshire, 
Brownie came to the bedside of a servant woman who 
had retired for the night, arranged the clothes, and, pulling 
them above her, said : " Take your sleep, poor creature" 
(dean cadal, a chreutair). He then went away. 

In character Brownie was harmless, but he made 
mischief unless every place was left open at night. He 
was fed with warm milk by the dairy-maid. 

A native of the Shetland Isles writes me that 
Brownie was well known in that locality. He worked 
about the barn, and at night ground with the handmill 
for those to whom he was attached. He could grind a 
bag or two of grain in a night. He was once rewarded 
for his labours by a cloak and hood left for him at the 
mill. The articles were away in the morning, and 
Brownie never came back. Hence the bye-word, such 
a man is like Brownie, 

" When he got his cloak and hood. 
He did no more good." 

The same story is told of the ' Cauld Lad of Hilton,' 
in the valley of the Wear in England (Keightley's 
Fairy Myth, p. 296), of Brownies in the Scottish 
Lowlands (p. 358), and of one in Strathspey (p. 395), 
who said, when he went away — 

" Brownie has got a coat and cap. 
Brownie will do no more work.'' 


It also made its way to Tiree, and was there told as 
follows : 

In olden times the tillage in Tiree was in common, 
the crop was raised here and there throughout the 
farm, and the herding was in consequence very difficult 
to do. In Baugh, or some farm in the west of the 
island (tradition is not uniform as to the locality), 
the cows were left in the pastures at night, and were 
kept from the crops by some invisible herdsman. No 
one ever saw him, or knew whence he came, nor, 
when he went away, whither he went. A taibhseir or 
seer {i.e. one who had the second-sight or sight of seeing 
ghosts) remained up to see how the cattle were kept. 
He saw a man without clothes after them, and taking 
pity upon him made him a pair of trews {triubhas^) 
and a pair of shoes. When the ghostly herdsman put 
the trews on, he said (and his name then, for the first 
time, became known) : 

" Trews upon Gunna, 

Because Gunna does the herding, 
But may Gunna never enjoy his trews, 
If he tends cattle any more." ^ 

^ The trews went into the shoe, close-fitted to the legs, and was fastened 
with a buckle at the waist. 

^ " Triuthas air Gunna 

'S Gunna ris a bhuachailleachd, 
'S na na mheal Gunna 'n triuthar 
Ma ni e tuille cuallaicb." 


When he said this he went away and was never more 
heard of. 

Beings of this class seem to have had a great 
objection to presents of clothes. A pair of shoes made 
the Glaistig at Unimore leave ; a cap, coat, and breeches 
the Phynnodderee in the Isle of Man (Keightley, Fairy 
Myth, p. 203) ; in the Black Forest of Germany, a new 
coat drove away a nix, one of the little water-people, 
with green teeth, that came and worked with the people 
all day {ibid., p. 261); and Brownie, as already men- 
tioned, in several places. 


In the Highlands of Perthshire, previous to the '45, 
each farm or village had its own bodachan sabhaill, ' the 
little old man of the barn,' who helped to thresh the 
corn, made up the straw into bundles, and saw that 
everything was kept in order. These Brownies had the 
appearance of old men and were very wise. They 
worked always at night, and were never mischievous, 
but highly useful. 

The Glaisein (lit. grey-headed man) of the Isle of 
Man bears a strong resemblance to them. He was 
very strong, frequented farms, threshed corn, and went 
to the sheep-folds (Campbell's West Highland Tales, 
Introd. liii.). 


These house-spirits have many relations, the Nis of 
Scandinavia, Kobold of Germany, Niagruisar of the 
Faroe Islands, and it is said the English Hobgoblin. 
The Hinzelman that haunted Hudemuhlen Castle in 
Liineberg had ' curled yellow hair,' also a characteristic 
of the Glaistig ; and the difference between one house- 
hold tutelary being and another is only such as might 
be expected from differences of country and society. 

The oldest member of the family is the Lar 
Familiaris of the Romans. There is a noticeable re- 
semblance between lar, the Roman household deity, and 
larach (from lar, the ground), the Gaelic for the stance 
or site of a building, to which, and not to the tenants, 
the Celtic household apparition attached itself. The 
lares of the Romans were the departed spirits of 
ancestors, which were believed to watch over their 
dependents. The Glaistig was held to have been a 
woman of honourable position, a former mistress of the 
house, the interests of the tenants of which she now 
attended to. Small waxen images of the lares, clothed 
with the skin of a dog, were placed in the hall. The 
Glaistig had the Fairy aversion to dogs (an aversion 
which was reciprocal), but many of the actions ascribed 
to her savour strongly of her being in some way 
identical with the herdsman's dogs. This would very 
well explain the pouring of milk for her in the evening 
in the hollow of a stone. The Glaistig of Ardnadrochit 
had the shape of a dog (see p. 175). 


A satisfactory explanation of the origin of the super- 
stition does not readily suggest itself. In days when 
men did not know what to believe in regarding the 
spirit world, and were ready to believe anything, a fancy 
may have arisen, that it secures the welfare of a house, 
and adds to its dignity, to have a supernatural being 
attached to it and looking after its interests. It had its 
origin after the tribes, among whom it is to be found, 
ceased to be roving and unsettled barbarians. In a 
large establishment a being of the kind was very useful. 
The master would not discredit its existence, as it 
helped to frighten idle and stupid servants into attend- 
ing to their work and into clean and tidy habits. 
Shrewd servants would say as little against it when it 
served so well to screen their own knavery or faults, 
and to impose on a credulous and facile, or careless 
master. Unless it was sometimes seen or heard, or 
some work was mysteriously done, the delusion, either of 
master or servant, could not be long continued ; and, 
when men have little else to do, there are many who 
take a pleasure in imposing on their more simple- 
minded fellows, and are quite ready, as much from sport 
as interest, to carry on a delusion of the kind. Besides, 
when the mind is nervously anxious, engrossed with the 
fear of a coming misfortune or the hope of a coming 
joy, it is apt to listen to the whispers of fancy and the 
confidently-told tales of others. When it broods alone, 
during the sleepless night, over the future it is not 


surprising if the imagination converts the weird sounds 
of night — the melancholy moaning of the wind, its 
fitful gusts in the woods and round the house, the roar 
of the waterfall, the sound of the surf-beaten shore, and 
many noises, of which the origin is at the time unknown 
and unsought — into the omens of that which makes 
itself sleepless, or hears in them the song of the house- 
spirit, prescient of the coming event. It must also 
be remembered that there are people who will see 
and hear anything if their story is believingly listened 
to, and they are themselves at the time objects of 

Pennant {Tour, p. 330) says Brownie was stout and 
blooming, had fine long flowing hair, and went about 
with a switch in his hand. He cleaned the house, 
helped to churn, threshed the corn, and belaboured 
those who pretended to make a jest of him. He says 
(P- 331) the Gruagach was in form like the Brownie, 
and was worshipped by libations of milk ; and " milk- 
maids still retain the custom of pouring some on 
certain stones, that bear his name." He is thought, it 
is added, to be an emblem of Apollo and identical 
with yj)V(TOKop.o<i. 

Mr. Campbell ( Tales of the West Highlands, i . xciii.) 
supposes the Gruagach of superstition to be a Druid 
fallen from his high estate, and living on milk left for 
him by those whose priest he had once been. In 
another place (ii. lOi) he supposes him to be a half- 


tamed savage, hanging about the house, with his long 
hair and skin clothing. 

These explanations are not satisfactory. The char- 
acter, dress, and actions ascribed to the Gruagach and 
his congeners are incongruous to the idea of Druid, 
heathen deity, or savage w^ild or reclaimed. 



The Urisk was a large lubberly supernatural, of solitary 
habits and harmless character, that haunted lonely and 
mountainous places. Some identify him with Brownie, 
but he differs from the fraternity of tutelary beings in 
having his dwelling, not in the houses or haunts of men, 
but in solitudes and remote localities. There were male 
and female Urisks, and the race was said to be the 
offspring of unions between mortals and fairies, that is, 
of the leannan slth. 

The Urisk was usually seen in the evening, big and 
grey {inbr glas), sitting on the top of a rock and peering 
at the intruders on its solitude. The wayfarer whose 
path led along the mountain side, whose shattered 
rocks are loosely sprinkled, or along some desert moor, 
and who hurried for the fast approaching nightfall, saw 
the Urisk sitting motionless on the top of a rock and 



gazing at him, or slowly moving out of his way. It 
spoke to some people, and is even said to have thrashed 
them, but usually it did not meddle with the passer-by. 
On the contrary, it at times gave a safe convoy to those 
who were belated. 

In the Highlands of Breadalbane the Urisk was 
said, in summer time, to stay in remote corries and 
on the highest part of certain hills. In winter time 
it came down to the strath, and entered certain 
houses at night to warm itself It was then it did 
work for the farmer, grinding, thrashing, etc. Its 
presence was a sign of prosperity; it was said to 
leave comfort behind it. Like Brownie, it liked 
milk and good food, and a present of clothes drove 
it away. 

An Urisk, haunting Beinn Doohrain (a hill beloved of 
the Celtic muse) on the confines of Argyllshire and 
Perthshire, stayed in summer time near the top of the 
hill, and in winter came down to the straths. A water- 
fall near the village of Clifton at Tyndrum, where it 
stayed on these occasions, is still called Eas na h-uruisg, 
the Urisk's cascade. It was encountered by St. Fillan, 
who had his abode in a neighbouring strath, and 
banished to Rome. 

The Urisk of Ben Loy {Beinn Laoigh, the Calf's hill), 
also on the confines of these counties, came down in 
winter from his lofty haunts to the farm of Sococh, in 
Glen Orchy, which lies at the base of the mountain. It 


entered the house at night by the chimney, and it is 
related that on one occasion the bar, from which the 
chimney chain was suspended, and on which the Urisk 
laid its weight in descending, being taken away, and not 
meeting its foot as usual, the poor supernatural got a 
bad fall. It was fond of staying in a cleft at Moraig 
water-fall, and its labours, in keeping the waters from 
falling too fast over the rock, might be seen by 
any one. A stone, on which it sat with its feet 
dangling over the fall, is called 'the Urisk stone' {Clach 
na k-uruisg). It sometimes watched the herds of 
Sococh farm. 

A man passing through Strath Duuisg, near Loch 
Sloy, at the head of Loch Lomond, on a keen frosty 
night, heard an Urisk on one side of the glen calling 
out, " Frost, frost, frost " {reoth, reoth, reoth). This was 
answered by another Urisk calling from the other side of 
the glen, "Kick-frost, kick-frost, kick-frost" {ceige-reoth, 
etc.). The man, on hearing this, said, " Whether I wait 
or not for frost, I will never while I live wait for kick- 
frost " ; and he ran at his utmost speed till he was out 
of the glen. 

The Urisk of the ' Yellow Water-fall ' in Glen Maili, 
in the south of Inverness-shire, used to come late every 
evening to a woman of the name of Mary, and sat 
watching her plying her distaff without saying a word. 
A man, who wished to get a sight of the Urisk, put on 
Mary's clothes, and sat in her place, twirling the distaff. 


as best he could. The Urisk came to the door but 
would not enter. It said : 

" I see your eye, I see your nose, 
I see your great broad beard, 
And though you will work the distaff, 
I know you are a man.'' 

Graham (^Highlands of Perthshire, p. 19, quoted by 
Sir Walter Scott in his Notes to The Lady of the Lake) 
says the Urisk "could be gained over by kind attentions 
to perform the drudgery of the farm, and it was believed 
that many families in the Highlands had one of the 
order attached to it." He adds that the famous Coire 
nan uruisgean derives its name from the solemn stated 
meetings of all the Urisks in Scotland being held there. 

The Urisk, like the Brownie of England, had great 
simplicity of character, and many tricks were played 
upon it in consequence. A farmer in Strathglass got it 
to undergo a painful operation that it might become fat 
and sleek like the farmer's own geldings. The weather 
at the time being frosty, it made a considerable outcry 
for some time after. 

From its haunting lonely places, other appearances 
must often have been confounded with it. In Strath- 
fillan (commonly called simply the Straths, Strathaibh), 
in the Highlands of Perthshire, not many years ago a 
number of boys saw what was popularly said to be 
an Urisk. In the hill, when the sun was setting, some- 
thing like a human being was seen sitting on the top 


of a large boulder-stone, and growing bigger and bigger 
till they fled. There is no difficulty in connecting the 
appearance with the circumstance that some sheep 
disappeared that year unaccountably from the hill, and 
a quantity of grain from the barn of the farm. 

In the Hebrides there is very little mention of the Urisk 
at all. In Tiree the only trace of it is in the name of 
a hollow, Slochd an Aoirisg, through which the public 
road passes near the south shore. The belief that it 
assisted the farmer was not common anywhere, and all 
over the Highlands the word ordinarily conveys no 
other idea than that which has been well-defined as " a 
being supposed to haunt lonely and sequestered places, 
as mountain rivers and waterfalls." 

THE BLUE MEN {Na Fir Ghorni). 

The fallen angels were driven out of Paradise in 
three divisions, one became the Fairies on the land, one 
the Blue Men in the sea, and one the Nimble Men 
(Fir Cklis), i.e. the Northern Streamers, or Merry Dancers, 
in the sky. 

This explanation belongs to the North Hebrides, 
and was heard by the writer in Skye. In Argyllshire 
the Blue Men are unknown, and there is no mention of 
the Merry Dancers being congeners of the Fairies, 
The person from whom the information was got was 
very positive he had himself seen one of the Blue Men. 
A blue-coloured man, with a long grey face [aodunn 


fada glas), and floating from the waist out of the water, 
followed the boat in which he was for a long time, and 
was occasionally so near that the observer might have 
put his hand upon him. 

The channel between Lewis and the Shant Isles 
{Na h-Eileinean slant, the charmed islands) is called 
' the Stream of the Blue Men ' {Sruth nam Fear Gorm). 
A ship, passing through it, came upon a blue-coloured 
man sleeping on the waters. He was taken on board, 
and being thought of mortal race, strong twine was 
coiled round and round him from his feet to his 
shoulders, till it seemed impossible for him to struggle, 
or move foot or arm. The ship had not gone far when 
two men were observed coming after it on the waters. 
One of them was heard to say, " Duncan will be one 
man," to which the other replied, " Farquhar will be 
two." On hearing this, the man, who had been so 
securely tied, sprang to his feet, broke his bonds like 
spider threads, jumped overboard, and made off with 
the two friends, who had been coming to his rescue. 

The Streamers. When the Streamers {Na Fir Chlis, 
lit. the active or quickly moving men) have ' a battle 
royal,' as they often have, the blood of their wounded 
falling to the earth, and becoming congealed, forms 
the coloured stones called ' blood stones,' known in 
the Hebrides also by the name o'i full siochaire, Elf's 


The Mermaid {Mnir-bigh, maighdean mhard) of the 
Scottish Highlands was the same as in the rest of the 
kingdom, a sea-creature, half fish half woman, with 
long dishevelled hair, which she sits on the rocks by the 
shore to comb at night. She has been known to put 
off the fishy covering of her lower limbs. Any one 
who finds it can by hiding it detain her from ever 
returning to the sea again. There is a common story 
in the Highlands, as also in Ireland, that a person so 
detained her for years, married her, and had a family 
by her. One of the family fell in with the covering, 
and telling his mother of the pretty thing he had 
found, she recovered possession of it and escaped to 
the sea. She pursues ships and is dangerous. Sailors 
throw empty barrels overboard, and while she spends 
her time examining these they make their escape. 

A man in Skye {Mac-Mhannain) caught a Mermaid 
and kept her for a year. She gave him much curious 
information. When parting he asked her what virtue 
or evil there was in egg-water (i.e. water in which eggs 
had been boiled). She said, " If I tell you that, you 
will have a tale to tell," and disappeared. 

A native of Eilein Anabuich (the Unripe Island), a 
village in North Harris, caught a Mermaid on a rock, 
and to procure her release, she granted him his three 
wishes. He became a skilful herb-doctor, who could 


cure the king's evil and other diseases ordinarily 
incurable, a prophet, who could foretell, particularly to 
women, whatever was to befall them, and he obtained 
a remarkably fine voice. This latter gift he had only 
in his own estimation ; when he sang, others did not 
think his voice fine or even tolerable. 


THE WATER-HORSE {Each Uisge). 

The belief in the existence of the Water-horse is now 

in the Highlands generally a thing of the past, but in 

olden times almost every lonely freshwater lake was 

tenanted by one, sometimes by several, of these animals. 

In shape and colour it resembled an ordinary horse, 

and was often mistaken for one. It was seen passing 

from one lake to another, mixing with the farmers' 

horses in the adjoining pastures, and waylaid belated 

travellers who passed near its haunts. It was highly 

dangerous to touch or mount it. Those whom it 

decoyed into doing so were taken away to the loch in 

which it had its haunt, and there devoured. It was 

said to make its approaches also in other guises — as a 

young man, a boy, a ring, and even a tuft of wool 

(ribeag cloimhe) ; and any woman upon whom it set its 

mark was certain at last to become its victim. The 

cow-shackle round its neck, or a cap on its head, 

completely subdued it, and as long as either of these 



was kept on it, it could be as safely employed in farm 
labour as any other horse. 

In Skye it was said to have a sharp bill {gob biorach), 
or, as others describe it, a narrow brown slippery snout. 
Accounts are uniform that it had a long flowing tail 
and mane. In colour it was sometimes grey, sometimes 
black, and sometimes black with a white spot on its 
forehead. This variation arose, some say, from the 
water horse being of any colour like other horses, and 
others say from its having the power of changing its 
colour as well as its shape. When it came in the shape 
of a man, it was detected by its horse-hoofs and by the 
green water weeds or sand in its hair. It was then 
very amorous, but the end of those who were unfor- 
tunate enough to encounter it was to be taken to the 
loch and devoured. However much benefit the farmer 
might at first derive from securing one with the cap or cow- 
shackle he was ultimately involved by it in ruinous loss. 

The following tales will illustrate the character of 
the superstition better than a lengthened dissertation : 


Stories to the following effect are common in Mull 
and the neighbourhood : 

A strange horse, which cannot be driven away, is 
seen all winter among the rest of the farm horse's. In 
olden times horses were little housed during winter ; 
the stable door was left open, and the horses, after 


eating the little straw allowed them, went out to pick 

up what they could. When spring work comes on the 

strange horse is caught like the rest and made to work. 

Perhaps for greater security the cow-shackle is put 

round its neck. It proves as docile and easily managed 

as any horse could be. It is the best horse the farmer 

has, and is fat and sleek when the rest are lean and 

ragged. It works thus all spring, and in summer is 

employed to take home peats from the moor. It is 

placed foremost in a string of three or seven horses, 

which have creels on their backs, in ancient fashion, 

and are tied each to the tail of the horse before it. 

The farmer rides the foremost of the team. On the 

way it becomes restive and unmanageable, and sets off 

at full speed, followed by the rest, towards the loch. 

Observing that the shackle has slipped off, the man, in 

passing through a narrow gateway, plants a foot against 

each pillar and throws himself off its back, or he 

tumbles on the sands of the shore, and jumping up, 

cuts the halter of the hindmost horse. Those that 

remain tied are dragged into the loch, and next day 

their entrails or livers come ashore. 

The most celebrated tale of this class was that of the 
son of the tenant of Aros, in Mull. 

The heir of Aros, a young man of great personal 
activity, and, it is said, of dissolute manners, having an 


Opinion of himself that there was no horse he could not 
ride, was taken by a Water-horse into Loch Frisa, a 
small lake about a mile in length in the north-west 
of Mull and devoured. This occurred between his 
espousal and marriage, and the Lament composed by 
his intended bride is still and deservedly a popular 
song in Mull. There seems to be this much truth in 
the story, that the young man was dragged into Loch 
Frisa by a mare which he was attempting to subdue 
and drowned. It would appear from the song that his 
body was recovered. The popular details of the in- 
cident vary considerably, and are of interest as illustra- 
tive of the growth of tales of superstition. 

One account has it that a remarkably handsome grey 
mare came among horses belonging to the tenant of 
Aros pasturing on the rushes at the end of Loch Frisa. 
One day his son haltered and mounted it. The grey 
stood quite quietly till it got the young man on its 
back. It then rushed into the loch. 

Another account says the young man found a mare 
in the hills, which he took to be one of those belonging 
to his father. He caught it with the intention of riding 
home, but the mare took out to Loch Frisa, and he was 
there devoured by Water-horses. 

A third account says the Water-horse was kept all 
winter, with the cow shackle about its neck, and 
remained so quiet and steady, that at last the shackle 
was neglected. The son of the tenant rode it one day 


to the peat-moss, three other horses following behind in 
usual form, when it suddenly rushed away to the lake, 
and nothing was ever seen of the youth or the horses 
but the livers. 

A fourth account says, in spring a band of men 
went to the hill to catch a young horse wanted for 
harrowing or to send to market. They were unable to 
catch it, and next day Aros's son himself went with 
them. He caught what he supposed to be the horse 
wanted and jumped on its back. The horse rushed at 
full speed towards the loch, and the young man found 
he could not throw himself off The horse's liver came 
ashore next day, the animal, it is supposed, having 
been killed by the other Water-horses tenanting the 
lake, when they felt the smell of a man off it. 

There is still another account, that Mac-fir Arois was 
twice taken away by the Water-horse. The first time, 
he managed to put a foot on each side of a gate, in 
passing through, and allowed the horse to pass on. 
The second time, a cap which hitherto had kept the 
horse, was forgotten. In the terrible career of the 
steed to the loch, the young man clasped his arms 
round its neck, and could not unclasp them. His lungs 
came ashore next day. 

This is a lonely little lake above Ardachyle {Aird-a- 
chaoil, the height of the sound) in the north-east of 


Mull. A person passing it late at night, on his way 
home, saw a horse with a saddle on, quietly feeding at 
the loch side. He went towards it with the intention 
of riding it home, but in time he observed green-water 
herbs [liaranaicK) about its feet and refrained from 
touching it. He walked on and before long was over- 
taken by a stranger, who said that unless he (the 
Water-horse, who was also the speaker) had been 
friendly and a well-wisher, he would have taken him to 
the loch. Among other supernatural information it told 
the man the day of his death. 

At noontide, while the cattle were standing in the 
loch, the herdsman near Loch Annla was visited by a 
person in whose head he observed ratkum, that is, 
water weeds. When going away the stranger jumped 
into the loch and disappeared without doing any harn;. 
People used to hear strange noises about that loch, no 
doubt caused by the Water-horse, which was the herds- 
man's visitor. 

A number of children went on a Sunday to amuse 
themselves in the neighbourhood of the ' Loch of 
Disaster ' {Loch na Dunach) in this district. They fell 
in with a horse, caught it, and in their thoughtless 
sport mounted it. Its back got longer till they were 


all mounted, except one, who had a Bible in his 
pocket. He touched the horse with his finger, and had 
to cut it off to save himself. The horse rushed into 
the lake, and the children, nine in number, were never 
more seen. The liver of one of them came ashore 
next day. 

This tale is widely spread, and is obviously a pious 
fraud to keep children from wandering on Sundays to 
play in lonely places, and from meddling with any 
horse they may find. 

' The Woman's Loch ' {Loch na Mnd) near Dim 
Can, the highest hill in this island, derives its name 
from having been the scene of the abduction of a 
woman by the Water-horse that haunted it. The big 
Smith {An Gobha Mbr), who lived in the neighbourhood, 
resolved to kill the horse, and by his success he earned 
himself the title of ' Alastair na B^isde ' (Alexander of 
the monster). He built a hut close by, with an open- 
ing like the syver of a drain, leading towards the loch. 
When he got the wind favourable, he killed and roasted 
a wether-sheep in the hut. The wind blew the savoury 
smell towards the loch, and the Water-horse, attracted 
by it, made its way into the hut by the entrance left for 
it. The smith had his irons ready in the fire, and 
rushing with them at the Water-horse killed it. On 
examination the monster proved to be merely grey 


turves {Jiluic ghlas), or, as others say, a soft mass {sgling) 
like jelly-fish {Muir-tiachd). 

Some thirty years ago, a small islet in this lake, of 
about an half an acre in extent, was tenanted by a 
strange specimen of the Highland freebooter, named 
Macphie. He was a deserter from the army, who at 
first took refuge in a cave in the neighbourhood. He 
took away by force a girl of twelve years of age, and, 
coming next day to her parents, said if it would give 
any satisfaction he would marry her, but refusing to 
part with her. A sort of ceremony of marriage was 
gone through, but Macphie seems for several years to 
have looked upon the girl merely as his daughter. 
Her first child was born when she was eighteen years 
of age, and she had several more of a family. After 
his marriage Macphie removed to the islet mentioned, 
and remained there undisturbed for many years. He 
supported himself by fishing, hunting, and taking now 
and then a sheep or goat from the lands surrounding 
the loch. Such was his terror of being surprised by 
soldiers that he always carried arms about him, and 
slept with a bayonet and loaded gun beside his bed. 
The country people were afraid of him and he was 
commonly reported to be not ' canny.' He was at 
last evicted by a south country farmer, when he 
removed with his family to Fort William. 


In his time a Water-horse was quite commonly seen 
in Loch Cuaich, floating on its side, or as it is called, 
' making a film ' {deanadh sgleo) and ' making a 
salmon of itself ' [deanadh bradain dhetk fhein), disport- 
ing itself and then disappearing. One stormy night 
Macphie, by his own account, was roused by a loud 
rattling noise at the door, as if some one were trying to 
enter. It stood in the door and Macphie knew it 
to be the Water-horse in the shape of a man. He 
fired twice at it, but it did not move. He called to his 
wife to bring a silver coin, and when he put this in the 
gun and fired, the figure went away and was heard 
plunging into the loch. The people round the loch 
heard three shots from the islet that night, for whatever 
cause they may have been fired. 


A man working in the fields in Caolas, in the east 
end of the island, saw a Water-horse coming from Loch 
an Air, a small marshy lake, full of reeds. He ran off 
in terror, and left his coat behind. The Water-horse 
tore the coat into shreds and then made , after the man. 
The dogs came out when it came near the house and 
drove it away. 

A son of one of the chamberlains of the island, 
last century, found a horse on the moors, and being 
struck with its excellence mounted it. The horse tore 
away at full gallop and could not be stopped. It 


galloped all round the country, till at last one side of 
the reins broke, and the horse rushed out on Loch 
Basibol, carrying its ill-fated rider with it. 


A young woman herding cattle drove her charge 
to a sequestered part of the hill, and while there a 
young man came her way, and reclining his head 
on her lap fell asleep. On his stretching himself 
she observed that he had horse-hoofs, and lulling 
him gently managed to get his head rested on the 
ground. She then cut out with her scissors the part 
of her clothes below his head and made her escape. 
When the Water-horse awoke and missed her it made 
a dreadful outcry. 

This tale, with unimportant variations, is known 
over the whole Highlands. Sometimes the young 
woman is sitting on the turf wall (totd) forming the 
end of the house when the Water-horse, in the shape 
of a handsome young man, comes her way ; sometimes 
she is one of a band of women, assembled at the 
summer shieling — the rest are killed and she makes 
her escape. She detects the character of the youth by 
the water weeds or the sand in his hair. Many of the 
stories add that the young man (or Water-horse) came 
for her on a subsequent Sunday after dinner, or to 
church, to which (as in the story of the Water-horse 
of Loch Assapol in the Ross of Mull) she went for 


security rather than keep an appointment previously- 
made with him, and took her to the loch. In Suther- 
landshire the scene of the incident is laid at Loch 
Meudaidh in Durness, and the descendants of the 
woman to whom it occurred are still pointed out. She 
detected the young man by the sand in his hair, and 
on looking back, after she had got to some distance, 
she saw him tearing up the earth in his fury.^ 

A Water-horse in man's shape came to a house in 
which there was a woman alone ; at the time she was 
boiling water in a clay vessel (croggan), such as was 
in use before iron became common. The Water-horse, 
after looking on for some time, drew himself nearer to 
her, and said in a snuffling voice, " It is time to begin 
courting, Sarah, daughter of John, son of Finlay." " It 
is time, it is time,'' she replied, " when the little pitcher 
boils.'' In a while it repeated the same words and 
drew itself nearer. She gave the same answer drawing 
out the time as best she could, till the water was 
boiling hot. As the snuffling youth was coming too 
near she threw the scalding water between his legs, 
and he ran out of the house roaring and yelling with 

^ Such was the terror inspired a few years ago by a report that the 
Water-horse of Loch Meudaidh had made its re-appearance that the natives 
would not take home peats that they had cut at the end of the loch by boat 
(the only way open to them), and the fuel was allowed to go waste. 



On the north side of this loch, which has been 
already mentioned as a haunt of the Water-horse, there 
was a farm, where there are now only blowing sand- 
banks, called the Town of the Clumsy Ones {Baile 
nan Crdganach) from five men, who resided there, 
having each six fingers on every hand. They were 
brothers, and it was said the Water-horse came every 
night, in the shape of a young man, to see a sister, 
who staid with them. 

With the tendency of popular tales to attach them- 
selves to known persons, this incident is related of 
Calum Mor Clarke and his family. Calum had three 
sons, Big Fair John {Iain Ban Mbr), Young Fair John 
{Iain Ban Og), and Middle Fair John {Iain Ban Mead- 
honacU). The four conspired to beguile the young 
man from the loch, who came to see the daughter, into 
the house, and got him to sit between two of them on 
the front of the bed. On a given signal these two 
clasped their hands round him and laid him on his 
back in the bed. The other two rushed to their 
assistance ; the young man assumed his proper shape 
of a Water-horse and a fearful struggle ensued. The 
conspirators cut the horse in pieces with their dirks, 
and put it out of the house dead.^ 

' A Water-horse was killed in Skye, where the stream from Eisgeadal 
falls into Loch Fada, at the foot of Storr, by sticking a knife into it. It 
had previously killed a man. 


Not far from the south end of the same loch there 
is a place called Fhaire na h-aon oidhcK, ' the one 
night's watch,' said to derive its name from an incident 
of which the Water-horse was the hero, similar to that 
told of the Urisk of Glen Maili (see page 197). 


The Kelpie that swells torrents and devours women 
and children has no representative in Gaelic super- 
stition. Some writers speak as if the Water-horse were 
to be identified with it, but the two animals are dis- 
tinctly separate. The Water-horse haunts lochs, the 
Kelpie streams and torrents. The former is never 
accused of swelling torrents any more than of causing 
any other natural phenomenon, nor of taking away 
children, unless perhaps when wanted to silence a 
refractory child. A Shetland friend writes : " Kelpies, 
I cannot remember of ever hearing what shape they 
were of They generally did their mischief in a quiet 
way, such as being seen splashing the water about the 
burns, and taking hold of the water-wheel of mills, and 
holding them still. I have heard a man declare, that 
his mill was stopped one night for half an hour and 
the full power of water on the wheel, and he was 
frightened himself to go out and see what was wrong. 
And he not only said but maintained that it was a 
Kelpie or something of that kind that did it." 


THE WATER-BULL {Tarbli IJirge). 

This animal, unlike the Water-horse, was of harmless 
character, and did no mischief to those who came near 
its haunts. It staid in little lonely moorland lochs, 
whence it issued only at night It was then heard 
lowing near the loch, and came among the farmers' 
cattle, but was seldom seen. Calves having short ears, 
as if the upper part had been cut off with a knife, or, 
as it is termed in Gaelic, Carc-chluasach {i.e. knife-eared), 
were said to be its offspring. It had no ears itself and 
hence its calves had only half ears."^ 

In the district of Lorn, a dairy-maid and herd, before 
leaving in the evening the fold, in which the cows had 
been gathered to be milked and left for the night, saw 
a small ugly very black animal, bull-shaped, soft and 
slippery, coming among the herd. It had an unnatural 
bellow, something like the crowing of a cock. The 
man and woman fled in terror, but, on coming back in 
the morning, found the cattle lying in the fold as 
though nothing had occurred. 

The Water Dog {Dobhar-Chii), called also the King 
Otter {Righ nan Dbbkran), is a formidable animal, 
seldom seen, having a skin of magic power, worth as 

' Corc-chluasach is also applied to calves the ears of which are in any way 
naturally marked, as if with a knife, slit in the points, serrated in the upper 
part, or with a piece out of the back. 


many guineas as are required to cover it. It goes at 
the head of every band of seven, some say nine, otters, 
and is never killed without the death of a man, woman, 
or dog. It has a white spot below the chin, on which 
alone it is vulnerable. A piece of its skin keeps mis- 
fortune away from the house in which it is kept, renders 
the soldier invulnerable in battle by arrow or sword or 
bullet, and placed in the banner makes the enemy turn 
and fly. " An inch of it placed on the soldier's eye," 
as a Lochaber informant said, " kept him from harm or 
hurt or wound though bullets flew about him like 
hailstones, and naked swords clashed at his breast. 
When a direct aim was taken, the gun refused fire." 

Others say the vulnerable white spot was under the 
King Otter's arm, and of no larger size than a sixpence. 
When the hunter took aim he required to hit this 
precise spot, or he fell a prey to the animal's dreadful 
jaws. In Raasa and the opposite mainland the magic 
power was said to be in a jewel in its head, which made 
its possessor invulnerable and secured him good fortune ; 
but in other respects the belief regarding the King Otter 
is the same as elsewhere. 

The word dobhar (pronounced dooar, dour), signifying 
water, is obsolete in Gaelic except in the name of this 



This mythical animal, ' the beast of the lowering 
horn,' seems to have been peculiar to Skye. It had 


but one horn on its forehead, and, Hke the Water-bull, 
staid in lochs. It was a large animal with long legs, of 
a clumsy and inelegant make, not heavy and thick, but 
tall and awkward. Its principal use seems to have 
been to keep children quiet, and it is little to be 
wondered at if, in the majority of cases, the terrors of 
childhood became a creed in maturer years. Scrogag, 
from which it derives its name, is a ludicrous name 
given to a snuff horn and refers to the solitary horn 
on its forehead. 

This animal {Beathach tnhr Loch Odhd) had twelve 
legs and was to be heard in winter time breaking the 
ice. Some say it was like a horse, others, like a large 



Buarach-bhaoi, lamprey. — The Buarach-bhaoi (lit. 

wild or wizard shackle), called also Buarach na Baoi 

(the shackle of the furious one), was believed to be a 

leech or eel-like animal to be found at certain fords 

and in dark waters, that twisted itself like a shackle 

round the feet of passing horses, so that they fell and 

were drowned. It then sucked their blood. It had 

nine eyes or holes in its head and back, at which the 

blood it sucked came out. Hence it was called 

Buarach-bhaoi nan sMlean claon (the furious shackle 

of the squinting eyes). In Skye, it was believed the 

animal was to be found in Badenoch. It was said to 

haunt the dark waters of Loch Tummel {Tethuil, hot 

flood, from the impetuosity of the river), in Perthshire, 

and was also known on the west coast of Argyllshire. 

The word is translated ' lamprey ' in dictionaries, but 

the description suggests the tradition of some species of 

gymnotus or electric eel. 



Cirein Croin, Sea Serpent. — This was the largest 
animal in the world, as may be inferred from a popular 
Caithness rhyme : 

'' Seven herring are a salmon's fill, 
Seven salmon are a seal's fill, 
Seven seal's are a whale's fill, 
And seven whales the fill of a Cirein Croin." 

To this is sometimes added, " seven Cirein Croin are 
the fill of the big devil himself" This immense sea- 
animal is also called Mial mkbr a chuain, the great 
beast of the ocean, cuartag mhbr a chuain, the great 
whirlpool of the ocean, and uile-bheisd a chuain, the 
monster of the ocean. It was originally a whirlpool, or 
the sea-snake of the Edda, that encircled the whole 

Gigelorum. — The Giolcam-daoram, or Gigelorum, is 
the smallest of all animals. It makes its nest in the 
mite's ear and that is all that is known about it. 

Lavellan. — This animal is peculiar to the north, where 
it is said to be able to hurt cattle from a distance of 
forty yards : " Lavellan, animal in Cathanesia frequens, 
in aquis degit, capite mustelae sylvestri simile, 
ejusdemque coloris, bestia est. Halitu Bestiis nocet. 
Remedium autem est, si de aqua bibant in qua ejus 
caput coctum est." (Sibbald's Scot. III., lib. 3, fol. 11.) 
Pennant, when at Ausdale, Langwell, Caithness-shire, 
says : " I inquired here after the Lavellan, which, from 
description, I suspect to be the water shrew mouse. 


The country people have a notion that it is noxious to 
cattle ; they preserve the skin, and, as a cure for their 
sick beasts, give them the water in which it has been 
dipt. I believe it to be the same animal which, in 
Sutherland, is called the water mole.'' It is also 
mentioned by Rob Donn, the Sutherland bard, in his 
satirical song on " Mac Rorie's Breeches " : " Let him 
not go away from the houses, to moss or wood, lest the 
Lavellan come and smite him." 

Bernicle Goose, Cadhan. — In the Hebrides, as in 
England, the Bernicle Goose was believed to grow from 
the thoracic worm, attaching itself to floating wood that 
has been some time in the water, often so closely as to 
hide the surface of the log. Caluin na Crbige, a native 
of Croig in Mull, who went about the country some 
thirty or forty years ago, the delight of youngsters by 
his extraordinary tales of personal adventures and of 
wonders he had seen, and the energy with which, sitting 
astride on a stool, he raised with their assistance the 
anchor, hoisted sail, and performed other nautical feats„ 
told that in the Indian seas, he and a comrade jumped 
overboard to swim to land. They swam for a week before 
reaching shore, but the water was so warm they felt no 
inconvenience. The loveliest music Calum ever heard 
was that made by Bernicle Geese as they emerged 
from barnacles that grew on the soles of his feet ! 

Eels {Easgunri). — It is still a very common belief in 
the Highlands that eels grow from horse hairs. In a 


village of advanced opinions in Argyllshire, the follow- 
ing story was heard from a person who evidently 
believed it : 

" In the island of Harris, in a time of scarcity, a 
person went out for fish, and succeeded only in getting 
eels. These animals are not eaten in the Highlands 
and his wife would not taste them. The man himself 
ate several. By and by he went mad, and his wife had 
to go for succour to a party of Englishmen, who had a 
shooting lodge near. On arriving with loaded guns, 
the sportsmen found the eel-eater in the fields fighting 
a horse. He was so violent that they had to shoot 
him. On inquiry it turned out that the cause of his 
madness and fighting the horse was that the eels he 
had eaten had grown from horse hairs ! " 

W/ia/e.—The round-headed porpoises, or caaing 
whales (inucun bearraich, lit. dog-fish pigs), derive their 
Gaelic name from being supposed to grow from dog- 
fish. An overgrown dog-fish, still retaining its own 
shape, is called Burraghlas. 

Herring. — The food of the Herring is said to consist 
of Crustacea and small fishes, but there is ordinarily 
so little appearance of food in their stomach that an 
easier explanation has been found in saying, they live 
■on the foam they make with their own tails ! A door- 
keeper at Dowart Castle is said to have successfully 
warned a M'Kinnon from Skye of the dangers awaiting 
Jiim at the banquet to which he had been invited, by 


asking him if they were getting any herring in the 
north at present, and then praising the herring as a 
royal fish {iasg rigJi) that never was caught by its 
mouthful of food or drink {air a bhalguni no air a 
ghreint). On hearing this remark M'Kinnon turned on 
his heel and made his escape. 

Flounder. — According to Sutherland tradition, the 
wry mouth of the flounders {Lebbag, as it is called in 
the north) arose from its making faces at the rock-cod. 
A judgment (which children, who make faces, are liable 
to) came upon it, and its mouth remains as it then 
twisted it. In Tiree and lona the distortion is said to 
have been caused by St. Columba. Colum-Kil met a 
shoal of flounders and asked : 

" Is this a removal, flounder?" 

" Yes it is, Colum-Kil crooked legs," said the 

" If I have crooked legs," said St. Columba, " may 
you have a crooked mouth," and so the flounder has a 
wry mouth to this day. 

Lobster. — The three animals that dart quickest and 
farthest in the sea, according to a popular and perhaps 
truthful rhyme, are the lobster, mackerel, and seal. 
" The dart of lobster, the dart of mackerel, and the dart 
of seal ; and though far the lobster's dart, farther is the 
mackerel's dart, and though far the mackerel's dart, 
farther is the seal's dart." 

Serpents. — A serpent, whenever encountered, ought 


to be killed. Otherwise, the encounter will prove an 
omen of evil. The head should be completely smashed 
(air a spleatradfi), and removed to a distance from the 
rest of the body. Unless this is done, the serpent will 
again come alive. The tail, unless deprived of anima- 
tion, will join the body, and the head becomes a beithis, 
the largest and most deadly kind of serpent.^ A 
person stung by one should rush to the nearest water. 
Unless he reaches it before the serpent, which also 
makes straight for it, he will die from the wound. 

Another cure for the sting is water in which the head 
of another serpent has been put. There was a man in 
Applecross who cured epilepsy by water in which he kept 
a living serpent. The patient was not to see the water. 
Farquhar, the physician, obtained his skill in the healing 
art from being the first to taste the juice of a white 
serpent. He was a native of Tongue, in Sutherland- 
shire, and on one occasion was met by a stranger, who 
asked him where he got the walking-stick he held in 
his hand. The stranger further got him to go to the 
root of the tree from which the stick had been cut, take 
a white serpent from a hole at its foot and boil it. He 
was to give the juice without touching it to the 

' The big beast of Scanlastle in Islay was one of this kind. It devoured 
seven horses on its way to Loch-in-daal. A ship was lying at anchor in the 
loch at the time, and a line of barrels filled with deadly spikes, and with 
pieces of flesh laid upon them, was placed from the shore to the ship. 
Tempted by the flesh, the ' loathly worm ' made its way out on the barrels 
and was killed by the spikes and cannon. 


stranger. Farquhar happened to touch the mess with 
his finger, and it being very hot, he thrust his finger in 
his mouth. From that moment he acquired his un- 
rivalled skill as a physician, and the juice lost its virtue. 

A week previous to St. Bridget's Day (ist February, 
O.S.) the serpents are obliged to leave their holes 
under ground, and if the ground is then covered with 
snow they perish. In the popular rhyme relating to 
the subject the serpent in Argyllshire and Perthshire is 
called the ' daughter of Edward,' but in Skye ait 
ribhinn, the damsel. In both cases the name is 
probably a mere euphemism suggested by the rhyme to 
avoid giving unnecessary offence to the venomous 

Rats and Mice. — When a place is infested to a 
troublesome extent with rats or mice, and all other 
means of getting rid of the pests have failed, the object 
can be accomplished by composing a song, advising 
them to go away, telling them where to go, and what 
road to take, the danger awaiting them where they 
are, and the plenty awaiting them in their new quarters. 
This song is called the Rat (or Mouse) Satire, and if 
well composed the vermin forthwith take their de- 

When the islet of Calv {an Calbh, the inner door), 
which lies across the mouth of Tobermory harbour, was 
let in small holdings, the rats at one time became so 
numerous that the tenants subscribed sixpence a-piece, 


and sent for Iain Pholchrain to Morven, to come and 

satjrize the rats away. He came and made a long ode, 

in which he told the rats to go away peaceably, and 

take care not to lose themselves in the wood. He told 

them what houses to call at, and what houses (those of 

the bard's own friends) to avoid, and the plenty and 

welcome stores — butter and cheese, and meal — to be got 

at their destination. It is said that after this there was 

an observable decrease in the number of rats in the 

island ! 

An Ardnamurchan man, pestered with mice, in 

strong language tried to get them away, and all who 

have had experience of the annoyance, will heartily 

join him in his wishes. The poet, with whips and 

switches, gathers the mice in a meadow near a stream, 

and sends a number of the drollest characters in the 

district to herd them, and ' old men, strong men, 

striplings, and honest matronly women, with potato 

beetles,' to chase them. At last he gets them on board 

a boat at Eabar an rbin, and sends them to sea. 

" The sea roaring boisterously. 
The ocean heaving and weltering, 
The tearing sound of sails splitting. 
The creaking of the keel breaking. 
The bilge water through the hull splashing 
Like an old horse neighing." 

And leaving them in this evil plight, the song ceases. 

Cormorant. — This bird passes through three stages of 
existence , it is "seven years a scart {^pelecanus cristatus), 


seven years a speckled loon {colymbus arcticus), and seven 
years a cormorant {pelecanus carbo) " (SeacM bliadhna 
na sgarbh, seachd bliadhna na learg,'s seachd bliadhna na 
bhallaire bodhain). 

Magpie. — The pyet {piaghaid) is called ' the mes- 
senger of the Campbells ' {Gille ruith nan Caimbeulach), 
a name also given (for what reason the writer has not 
been able to ascertain) to a person who is ' garrulous, 
lying, interfering with everbody ' {gobach, briagach, 'g 
obair air na h-uile duine). It is said of a meddling 
chatterbox, " What a messenger of the Campbells you 
have become ! " It is ' little happiness ' {beagan sonais) 
for any one to kill a magpie. 

Beetles. — The Ceardalan or dung-beetle is spared by 
boys when met with, but the daolag or clock is merci- 
lessly l^illed. The reason assigned is, that when the 
former met those who came to seize the person of our 
Saviour, and was asked how long since he had passed, 
it said, "twenty days ago yesterday" {fhichead latha gus 
an de, chaidh Mac Dhe seachad), but the latter said, " it 
was only yesterday " {an de, an de chaidh Mac Dhe 
seachad). Hence, when boys hammer the life out of a 
'clock,' they keep repeating with savage unction, "The 
day before yesterday, wretch " {air a bhb 'n de, bhradag), 

or a rhyme ; 

" Remember yesterday, yesterday, 
Remember yesterday, wretch, 
Remember yesterday, yesterday, 
That let not the Son of God pass." 


Emmet {Caora-Chbsag). — This animal is shaken be- 
tween the palms of the hand and laid upon the table. 
It is believed by boys to indicate the weather of the 
following day, by lighting on its back or belly and the 
alacrity with which it moves away. 

Skip-Jack. — This insect {Gobhachan, i.e. little smith 
or Buail a Cknag, give a knock), when laid on its back 
emits a loud crack in springing to its proper position. 
It is a favourite amusement of boys when they get hold 
of one to make it go through this performance. In 
Skye, when watching it preparing to skip, they say, 

" Strike with your hammer, little smith, 
Or I will strike your head." ^ 

' Buail an t-6rd, a ghobachain, 
No buailidh mi sa cheann thu." 



Gisvagun, Eapagun, Upagun. — Of the same class with 
magical charms and incantations, that is, of no avail to 
produce the results with which they are credited, were 
various minor observances and practices, to which im- 
portance was attached as lucky or unlucky, and ominous 
of, if not conducive to, future good or ill. In some cases 
these observances became mere customs, followed with- 
out heed to their significance or efficacy; and many were 
known to, and believed in only by, the very superstitious. 
So far as causing or leading to the result ascribed to 
them was concerned, they were, 'like the Sunday plant,' 
without good or harm, but a mind swayed by trifling 
erroneous beliefs of the kind is like a room filled with 
cobwebs. Superstition shuts out the light, makes the 
mind unhealthy, and fills it with groundless anxieties. 

The Right- Hand Turn {Deiseal). — This was the most 
important of all the observances. The rule is " Deiseal 

{i.e. the right-hand turn) for everything," and consists in 



doing all things with a motion corresponding to the 
course of the sun, or from left to right. This is the 
manner in which screw-nails are driven, and is common 
with many for no reason but its convenience. Old men 
in the Highlands were very particular about it. The 
coffin was taken deiseal about the grave, when about to 
be lowered ; boats were turned to sea according to it, 
and drams are given to the present day to a company. 
When putting a straw rope on a house or corn-stack, if 
the assistant went tuaitheal {i.e. against the course of 
the sun), the old man was ready to come down and 
thrash him. On coming to a house the visitor should 
go round it deiseal to secure luck in the object of his 
visit. After milking a cow the dairy-maid should strike 
it deiseal with the shackle, saying " out and home " 
(inach 'us dachaigh). This secures its safe return. The 
word is from deas, right-hand, and iul, direction, and of 
itself contains no allusion to the sun. 

Rising and Dressing. — It is unfortunate to rise out of 
bed on one's left side. It is a common saying when evil 
befalls a person, who seems to himself to have rushed to 
meet it, " I did not rise on my right hand to-day." ^ 

Water in which eggs have been boiled or washed 
should not be used for washing the hands or face. It 
is also a common saying when mischance befalls a 
person through his own stupidity, " I believe egg- 
water was put over me." 

^ " Is mise nach d'eirich air mo laimh dheis an duigh." 


When done washing himself a person should spit in 
the water, otherwise if the same water should be used 
by another for a like purpose, there will be danger of 
quarrelling with him before long. 

Clothes. — When a person puts on a new suit it is 
customary to wish him luck of it : " May you enjoy 
and wear it." A man should be always the first to do 
this, the tailor, if he has the good sense. It is unlucky 
if a woman be the first to say it, and prudent women 
delay their congratulations and good wishes till they 
are satisfied some male friend has spoken first. It is 
less unfortunate if the woman has had a male child. 

If a person wearing a dress dyed with crotal, a 
species of lichen, be drowned, his body will never be 
found. This belief prevails in the north, and there 
the home-made dress indicated, which is of a reddish - 
brown colour, is frequently seen. 

Houses and Lands. — There should be placed below 
the foundation of every house a cat's claws, a man's 
nails, and a cow's hoofs, and silver under the door-post. 
These will prove omens of the luck to attend the house. 
If an outgoing tenant leaves the two former below the 
door it is unfortunate for the incoming tenant, as his 
cattle will die. 

An expectant occupier, or claimant, will secure to 
himself possession of land by burning upon it a little 
straw. This straw was called ' a possession wisp ' (ySop 
seilbke). If, for instance, there were two claimants to 


land and one of them burnt a ' possession wisp' on it, 

he might go about his business with his mind easy as 

to the result of the lawsuit. Or, if a tenant ran in debt 

and had to leave his farm, another, who had a promise 

of the holding, came and burnt a ' possession wisp,' no 

evil or debt of those formerly attaching to it would 

then follow the holding. 

Baking. — In baking oatmeal cakes there is a little 

meal left on the table after the last cake is sprinkled 

previous to being fired. This remnant should not be 

thrown away or returned to the meal chest, but be 

kneaded between the palms into a little cake, to be 

given to one of the children. This little bannock was 

the Bonnach Fallaid, called also Siantachan a chlair 

(the charmer of the board), to which in olden times 

housewives attached so much importance. Unless it 

was made the meal lost its substance, and the bread of 

that baking would not be lasting {baan). On putting 

a hole through it with the forefinger, as already 

explained, it was given to children, and placed beside 

women in childbed, to keep the Fairies away. It 

mightily pleased little children, and was given to them 

as a reward for making themselves useful. 

" A little cake to Finlay, 
For going to the well." 

Its origin is said to have been as follows : 
A man fell in with a skull in a graveyard and took 
it to a tailor's house, where bread was being baked. 

BAKING. 233 

The tailor gave it a kick, saying, " There was one period 
of the world when your gabful of dough was not small, 
and if I had you on a New- Year's day, I would give 
you your fill." When the New Year came round, a 
stranger came to the tailor's house asking for a mouth- 
ful of dough. The tailor set his wife to bake, and what- 
ever she baked the stranger ate, and then asked for more. 
The tailor's stock of meal, and that of his neighbours, 
was devoured, and still the stranger asked for more. 
An old man of the neighbourhood was consulted, and 
he advised that the remnants, or dry meal used for 
sprinkling the cakes, should also be baked for the 
voracious guest. On this Fallaid cake being given the 
stranger declared himself satisfied and went away. 

If bread, when being baked, breaks frequently a 
hungry stranger will come to eat it. Many cakes 
breaking are a sign of misfortune, by which the 
housewife is warned that " something is making for 

If the cake for breakfast falls backwards, the person 
for whom it is intended should not be allowed to go on 
a journey that day; his journey will not be prosperous. 
The evil can, however, be remedied by giving plenty of 
butter, ' without asking,' with the cake. To avert this 
omen, cakes should not be placed to harden at the fire 
on their points, but on either of the two sides or on 
their round edge. An old woman in Islay got into a 
great rage at a wake on seeing the cakes (that is. 


quarters of a farl or large round bannock) placed on 
their points. 

It is not good to count the cakes when done baking. 
They will not in that case last any time. 

Removal Cheese {Mulchag ImricJi). — When leaving 
the summer pastures in the hills, on Lammas day, and 
returning with the cattle to the strath, a small cheese 
made of curds was made from that day's milk, to be 
given to the children and all who were at the airidh, 
for luck and good-will. The cows were milked early 
in the morning, curds were made and put in the cheese 
vat {fioghan), and this hastily-prepared cheese was the 
mulchag iinrich, and was taken with the rest of the 
furniture home for the purpose mentioned. 

Leg Cake {Bonnach Lurgainri). — This was a cake 
given to the herd when he came with news that a mare 
had foaled, or to the dairy-maid when she brought word 
that a cow had calved. 

Giving Fire out of the House. — On the first day of 
every quarter of the year — New- Year day, St Bride's 
day. Beltane, and Lammas — no fire should be given out 
of the house. On the two last days especially it should 
not be given, even to a neighbour whose fire had gone 
out. It would give him the means of taking the 
substance or benefit {toradh) from the cows. If given, 
after the person who had come for it left, a piece of 
burning peat (ceann fbid) should be thrown into a tub 
of water, to keep him from doing harm. It will also 


prevent his coming again. On New- Year's day fire 
should not be given out of the house on any considera- 
tion to a doubtful person. If he is evil-disposed, not a 
beast will be alive next New Year. A suspected witch 
came on this day to a neighbour's house for fire, her 
own having gone out, and got it. When she went 
away a burning peat was thrown into a tub of water. 
She came a second time and the precaution was again 
taken. The mistress of the house came in, and on 
looking in the tub found it full of butter. 

Thunder. — In a storm of thunder and lightning iron, 
for instance the poker and tongs, put in the fire, averts 
all danger from the house. This curious belief seems 
to have been widespread at one time throughout the 
Western Highlands, though now its memory barely 
survives. Its rationale seems to have been in some way 
to propitiate the fire, of which lightning is the most 
powerful exhibition. A woman in Cnoydart (a Roman 
Catholic district), alarmed by the peals of a thunder- 
storm, threw holy water on herself, put the tongs in the 
fire, and on being asked the reason, said, " The cross of 
Christ be upon us ! the fire will not harm us." Perhaps 
the practice had some connection with the belief that the 
Beither, or thunder-bolt, was of iron, a sharp-pointed 
mass. It seems one of the most irrational practices 
possible, but was probably of remote origin. In Kent 
and Herefordshire, a cold iron bar was put on the barrels, 
to keep the beer from being soured by thunder. 


Theft. — The stealing of salt, seed of plants, and lint 

make the thief liable to judgment without mercy. He 

may escape punishment from men but he will never 

attain to rest, as the rhyme says: 

" The stealer of salt, and the stealer of seeds, 
Two thieves that get no rest ; 
Whoever may or may not escape, 
The stealer of grey lint will not." ' 

Another version of the rhyme is : 

" Thief of salt and thief of seeds. 
Two thefts from which the soul gets no repose ; 
Till the fish comes on land 
The thief of hnt gets never rest." 

Salt. — In addition to the testimony this rhyme bears to 
the value of salt, there was a saying, that a loan of salt 
should be returned as soon as possible ; if the borrower 
dies in the meantime and without restitution being made 
his ghost will revisit the earth. No fish should be given 
out of the house without being first sprinkled with salt. 
Meal taken out of the house in the evening was 
sprinkled with salt to prevent the Fairies getting its 

Combing the Hair. — A person should not comb his 
hair at night, or if he does, every hair that comes out 
should be put in the fire. Otherwise they will meet 
his feet in the dark and make him stumble. No sister 

' " Meiileach salainn 's nieiileach frois, 
Da mheirleach nach fhaigh fois ; 
Ge b'e co thig no nach d'thig a nios, 
Ch^ d'thig meirleach an hn ghlais." 


should comb her hair at night if she have a brother 
at sea. 

If the hair is allowed to go with the wind and it 
passes over an empty nest, or a bird takes it to its nest, 
the head from which it came will ache. 

No person should cut his own hair, as he will by 
doing so become an unlucky person to meet. 

If the hair, when thrown on the fire, will not burn, it 
is a sign the person will be drowned. 

Bird Nests. — On falling in with a nest for the first 
time that year, if there be only one egg in it, or if there 
be an odd egg in it, that egg should be broken. 

Any one finding a cuckoo's nest will live to be , 

Hen's First Egg. — A young hen's first egg should 
be tapped on the hearth, saying, "one, two, three," etc., 
and as many numbers as were repeated before the egg 
broke, or the youngster, who was persuaded to try 
the experiment, got tired, so many eggs would that hen 

Euphemisms. — By giving diseases and other evils a 
good name, when speaking of them, the danger of 
bringing them upon oneself by his words is turned 
away. It will be remembered that for a similar reason 
the ancients called the Fairies Eumenides, and the Celt 
called the Fairies ' good people.' The smallpox was 
called ' the good woman.' Epilepsy ' the outside 


In telling a tale of any one being taken away by the 
Fairies, the ill-will of the ' people ' was averted by 
prefixing the narrative with the words, " A blessing on_ 
their journeying and travelling ! this is Friday and they 
will not hear us." 

When a person sneezes it is customary for the 
bystander to say "Thank you," to which is sometimes 
added, " We will not take his name in vain." Some 
say, " God be with you," others, " God and Mary be 
with you," and others, " St. Columba be with you." By 
saying, " The hand of your father and grandfather be 
over you," the Fairies are kept away. Any words 
would seem to have been deemed availing, and some 
of the phrases used were not choice. If the bystander 
should say, "Your brains the next time!" the person 
sneezing should answer, " The bowl of your head inter- 
cept them ! " 

When a child yawns, the nurse should say, 
" Your weariness and heaviness be on yonder grey 
stone ! " 

When the story of a house having taken fire is told, 
the narrative should be prefixed by saying, " St Mary's 
well be in the top of every house ! the cross of Christ 
be upon us ! " This averts a similar calamity from the 
house in which the tale is told. 

In some places old people are to be found who, 
when a person comes in with any tale of misfortune, 
of the death of one of the cattle, a neighbour's house 


taking fire, etc., pull threads from their clothes and 
throw them in the fire, saying, "Out with the evil tale!" 
or, " To tell it to themselves." 

In speaking of the dead, it is proper to speak of 
them only in commendatory terms — de mortuis nihil 
nisi bonum. Hence moladh mairbh (Praise of the 
Dead) denotes faint praise, not always deserved. In 
speaking of the dead, old people always added, " His 
share of paradise be his " [chuid a fhlaitheanas da), or 
" His portion of mercy be his " {chuid a throcair da). 
If their tale was not to the credit of the deceased or 
they were obliged to make any statement unfavourable 
to him, they said, " It is not to send it after him." 

Boat Language. — When in a boat at sea, sailing or 
fishing, it was forbidden to call things by the names by 
which they were known on land. The boat-hook 
should not be called croman, but a chliob ; a knife, not 
sgian, but a ghiar (the sharp one); the baling dish, not 
taonian, but spiiidseir; a seal, not rbn, but bt'isd inhaol 
(the bald beast) ; a fox, not sionnach, but madadh ricadh 
(the red dog); the stone for anchoring the boat was 
not clach, but cruaidh (hardness). This practice pre- 
vails much more on the east coast than on the west, 
where it may be said to be generally extinct. It is 
said to be carefully observed among the fishermen 
about the Cromarty Firth. It was deemed unlucky by 
east coast fishermen coming to Tiree (as several boats 
used to do annually to prosecute the cod and ling 


fishing), to speak in a boat of a minister or a 
rat. Everywhere it was deemed unlucky among 
seafaring men to whistle in case a storm should 
arise. In Tiree, Heynish Hill (the highest in the 
island) was known at sea as a Bkraonach; Hogh Hill 
(the next highest) as Bheinn Bhearnach no Sgoillte (the 
Notched or Cloven Hill), and a species of whale as cas 
napoite (the leg of a pot). It should not be said " He 
was drowned " {bhathadh e) but " he journeyed " 
{shiubhail e) ; not " tie a rope " {ceangail rbp), but 
" make it " {dean e). In the north it was held that an 
otter, while in its den, should not be called beisd du (the 
black beast, its common name), but Carnag. It would 
otherwise be impossible for the terriers to drive it from 
its refuge. 

Fresh Meat. — When fresh meat of the year's growth 
is tasted for the first time, a person should say, 

" A death-shroud on the grey, better grey, old woman, 
Who said she would not taste the fresh meat, 
I will taste the fresh meat. 
And will be alive for it next year." 

This ensures another year's lease of life. 

Killing those too long alive. — If a person is thought 

to be too long alive, and it becomes desirable to get rid 

of him, his death can he ensured by bawling to him 

thrice through the key-hole of the room in which he is 


" Will you come, or will' you go ? 
Or will you eat the flesh of cranes ? " 


Funerals. — It was customary to place a plate of salt, 
the smoothing iron, or a clod of green grass on the 
breast of a corpse, while laid out previous to being 
coffined. This, it was believed, kept it from swelling. 
A candle was left burning beside it all night. When 
it was placed in the coffin and taken away on the day 
of the funeral, the boards on which it had been lying 
were left for the night as they were, with a drink of 
water on them, in case the dead should return and be 
thirsty. Some put the drink of w^ater or of milk 
outside the door, and, as in Mull and Tiree, put a sprig 
of pearlswort above the lintel to prevent the dead from 
entering the house. 

When coffining the corpse every string in the shroud 
was cut with the scissors; and in defence of the 
practice there was a story that, after burial, a woman's 
shade came to her friends, to say that all the strings 
in her shroud had not been cut. Her grave was opened, 
and this was found to be the case. 

The only instance the writer has heard of Cere-cloth, 
that is, cloth dipped in wax in w^hich dead bodies were 
wrapped, being used in the Highlands, is, that the 
Nicholsons of Scorrybreck, in Skye (a family said to be 
of Russian descent through Neacal inhr who was in 
Mungastadt), had a wax shirt {Leine Ch£r) which, from 
the friendship between themselves and the chief of the 
Macleods, was sent for from Dunvegan on every occa- 
sion of a death. 



The Watch of the Graveyard {Faire Chlaidh). — The 
person last buried had to keep watch over the grave- 
yard till the next funeral came. This was called Faire 
Chlaidh, the graveyard watch, kept by the spirits of the 

At Kiel {Cill Challum Chille), in Morvern, the body 
of the Spanish Princess said to have been on board one 
of the Armada blown up in Tobermory Bay was buried. 
Two young men of the district made a paction, that 
whoever died first the other would watch the church- 
yard for him. The survivor, when keeping the 
promised watch, had the sight of his dead friend as 
well as his own. He saw both the material world and 
spirits. Each night he saw ghosts leaving the church- 
yard and returning before morning. He observed that 
one of the ghosts was always behind the rest when 
returning. He spoke to it, and ascertained it to be 
the ghost of the Spanish Princess. Her body had been 
removed to Spain, but one of her little fingers had been 
left behind, and she had to come back to where it was. 

When two funeral parties met at the churchyard, a 
fight frequently ensued to determine who should get 
their friend first buried. 

Suicides. — The bodies of suicides were not taken out 
of the house, for burial, by the doors, but through an 
opening made between the wall and the thatch. They 
were buried, along with unbaptized children, outside the 
common churchyard. 


It was believed in the north, as in Skye and about 
Applecross (« ChomracK) in Ross-shire, no herring would 
be caught in any part of the sea which could be seen 
from the grave of a suicide. 

Murder. — It was believed in Sutherlandshire that a 
murdered body remained undecayed till 'touched. 

The Harvest Old Wife [a ChailleacK). — In harvest, 
there was a struggle to escape being the last done with 
the shearing, and when tillage in common existed, 
instances were known of a ridge being left unshorn (no 
person would claim it) because of it being behind the 
rest. The fear entertained was that of having the 
* famine of the farm ' (^gort a bhaile), in the shape of 
an imaginary old woman [cailleacK), to feed till next 
harvest. Much emulation and amusement arose from 
the fear of this old woman ; and from it arose the 
expression, " Better is a mercy-leap in harvest than a 
sheaf additional " (^As fearr leuni-iochd a's t ' fhogaradk 
na sguab a bkarrackd). The cum-iochd^ or mercy-leap, 
is where a rocky mound or a soft spot, where no corn 
grows, occurs in a ridge. Its occurrence was a great 
help to the shearing being done. 

The first done made a doll of some blades of corn, 
which was called the ' old wife,' and sent it to his 
nearest neighbour. He in turn, when ready, passed it 
to another still less expeditious, and the person it last 

•* Leagadh-iochd is the remission of arrears of rent, lit. a merciful letting 


remained with had the ' old woman ' to keep for that 
year. The old wife was known in Skye as the Cripple 
Goat {a Ghobhar Bhacach). 

The fear of the Cailleach in harvest made a man in 
Saor-bheinn, in the Ross of Mull, who farmed his land 
in common with another, rise and shear his corn by 
moonlight. In the morning he found it was his neigh- 
bour's corn he had cut. 

Big Porridge Day {La u Bhrochain mhbr). — In the 
Western Islands, in olden times (for the practice does 
not now exist anywhere), when there was a winter 
during which little sea-ware came ashore, and full 
time for spring work had come without relief, a large 
dish of porridge, made with butter and other good 
ingredients, was poured into the sea on every headland 
where wrack used to come. Next day the harbours 
were full. 

This device was to be resorted to only late in the 
spring — the lona people say the Thursday before Easter 
— and in stormy weather. The meaning of the ceremony 
seems to have been that, bj'' sending the fruit of the 
land into the sea, the fruit of the sea would come 
to land. 

Fires on Headlands. — In Skye, fires were lighted on 
headlands at the beginning of winter to bring in 

Stances. — Particular stances, or sites of buildings, 
were accounted unlucky, such for instance as the. site 


of a byre in which the death of several cattle had 
occurred ; and it was recommended, to prevent the 
recurrence of such misfortunes, that the site should be 

Names. — So with regard to names. If the children 
of a family were dying in infancy, one after the other, 
it was thought that, by changing the name, the evil 
would be counteracted. The new name was called a 
'Road name' {Ainm Rathaid), being that of the first 
person encountered on the road when going with the 
child to be baptized. It was given ' upon the luck ' 
(air sealbhaicK) of the person met. 

The Mac-Rories, a sept of the Mac-Larens, in Perth- 
shire, were descendants of one who thus received his 
name. His parents, having lost a previous child before 
its baptism, were advised to change the name. They 
were on their way through the Pass, called Lairig Isle, 
between Loch Erne and Glen-dochart, to have their 
second child baptized, when they were met by one 
Rory Mac Pherson. He was an entire stranger to 
them, but turned back with them, as a stranger ought 
to do to avoid being unlucky, and the child was called 
after him. Ctann 'ic-Shimigeir, a sept of the Mac Neills, 
have also a road name. 

Delivery of Cattle and Horses. — -Before delivering a 
cow to the buyer at a market, the seller should pass 
the end of the rope, by which she is led, three times 
round his body. When taking delivery of a horse. 


from one of whom you are not sure, you should come 
deiseal between him and the horse, and take hold of 
the halter inside his hand, that is, between him and the 
horse. Otherwise, the seller's eye will be after the 

Trades. — Masons were said to be able to raise the 
devil, or, as the Gaelic expression more forcibly describes 
it, " to take the son of cursing from his roots " (mac- 
niollachd thoirt as a fhriamhaichean). 

Smiths, being people who work among iron, were 
deemed of more virtue against the powers of evil than 
any other tradesmen. 

Tailors were looked upon with a feeling akin to that 
entertained in the south, where " nine tailors made a 
man." The reason probably was that in olden times 
every man fit to bear arms thought it beneath him to 
follow a peaceful occupation, and only the lame and 
cripple were brought up as tailors. 

Tinkers are known as Luckd-Ceaird, that is literallj^ 
' tradesmen,' and the name is a memory of days when 
they held the first rank as hand-craftsmen. 

Saor, a joiner, means literally ' a free-man,' whence 
it would appear that from the earliest times the trade 
was highly esteemed. 

Iron. — An oath on cold iron was deemed the most 
binding oath of any ; when people swore on their dirks 
it was only because it was at the time the cold iron 
readiest to hand. A man who secreted iron, and died 

/RON. 247 

without telling where, could not rest in his grave. At 
Meigh, in Lochaber, a ghost for a long time met people 
who were out late. An old man, having taken with 
him a Bible and made a circle round himself on the 
road with a dirk, encountered it, and, in reply to his 
inquiries, the ghost confessed to having stolen a plough- 
share {soc a cJiroinri), and told where the secreted iron 
was to be found. After this the ghost discontinued its 
visits to the earth. 

Cold iron, e.g. the keys passed round the body of a 
cow, after her return from the bull, keeps her from 
atk-ddir, that is, seeking to go on the same journey 

Empty Shells. — Empty whelk shells (^Faochagun 
failmke) should not be allowed to remain in the house 
for the night. Something is sure to come after them. 

Similarly, water in which feet have been washed {i.e. 
out of which the use or benefit has been taken) should 
not be left in the house for fear the noiseless people 
come and plunge about in it all night. 

Protection against Evil Spirits. — On every occasion of 
danger and anxiety, the Highlander of former days 
commended himself to the protection of the Cross. In 
a storm of thunder he blessed himself saying, " the 
Cross of Christ be upon us." When he encountered a 
ghost or evil spirit at night, he drew a circle round 
himself on the road with the point of his dirk, or a 
sapling in the name of Christ, " the Cross of Christ be 


upon me," and while he remained in the circle no evil 
could come near hinl. 

A person was also safe while below high-water mark. 
Fairies and evil spirits had no power below the roll of 

When walking the high road at night, it is recom- 
mended to keep to the side paths in case of meeting 
the wraiths of funerals. The ghostly train may throw 
a person down, or compel him to carry the bier to the 

Misnaming a Person. — If a person be accidentally 
misnamed, as e.g. being called John when his name is 
Donald, he who made the mistake, on observing it, 
instantly exclaimed, " The Cross of Christ be upon 
, Gaining Straw {Sop Seile). — At certain seasons of 
the year, principally at Beltane and Lammas, a wisp of 
straw, called Sop-seile (literally a spittle wisp), was taken 
to sprinkle the door-posts and houses all round sunwise 
(deiseal), to preserve them from harm. When a new 
cow came home it was also sprinkled to preserve it 
from the evil eye. The liquid used was menstruum. 

In spring the horses, harness, plough, etc., were simi- 
larly sprinkled before beginning to plough. 

Propitious Times. — A great number of the obser- 
vances of superstition were regulated by days of 
the week or year. There were certain days on which 
alone certain works could be commenced under favour- 


able auspices and with any chance of being successfully 

Unlucky Actions. — It is unlucky to wind black thread 
at night. A vicious wish made to one another by 
women quarrelling, in olden times, was, " The disease 
of women who wind black thread at night be upon 
you 1" Some say the reason of the evil omen is, that 
black thread is apt to disappear at night, or be taken 
by the Fairies, and be found through the house next 
morning. Superstition probably assigned some more 
occult reason. 

It is ' little happiness ' for anyone to kill a magpie 
or a bat. 

It is unlucky for a person on a journey to return the 
way he went. This belief had its origin in the instruc- 
tions given to the ' man of God,' who rebuked the 
idolatry of Jeroboam. " Eat no bread, nor drink water, 
nor turn again by the same way that thou earnest" 
(l Kings xiii. 9). 



The anxiety of men to know the future, the issue of 
their labours, and the destinies awaiting them, makes 
them ready Hsteners to the suggestions of fancy, and an 
easy prey to deception. The mind eagerly lays hold 
on anything that professes to throw light on the subject 
of its anxiety, and men are willing victims to their own 
hopes and fears. Where all is dark and inscrutable, 
deception and delusion are easy, and hence augury of 
all kinds, omens, premonitions, divinations, have ever 
exercised a noticeable power over the human mind. 

The ordinary manner which superstition takes to 
forecast the future is to look upon chance natural 
appearances under certain circumstances as indications of 
the character, favourable or unfavourable, of the event 
about which the mind is anxious. Any appearance in 
nature, animate or inanimate, can thus be made an 
omen of, and an inference be drawn from it of impend- 

^ Manadaireachd, 

AUGURY. 251 

ing good or bad fortune. If it be gloomy, forbidding, 
awkward, or unpleasant, it is an unlucky omen, and the 
subsequent event, with which the mind associates it, 
will be unfavourable, but if pleasant, then it is a good 
omen, and prognosticates pleasant occurrences. 

Omens which proceed upon a similarity of character 
between the prognostic and its fulfilment are easy of 
interpretation. There are other omens which have no 
connection, natural, possible, or conceivable, with the 
impending event, and of which consequently the mean- 
ing is occult, known only to people of skill instructed 
in their interpretation. These probably had their origin 
in one or two accidental coincidences. For instance, if 
the appearance of a fox is to be taken as an omen, it 
will naturally be taken as a bad sign, the stinking brute 
can indicate nothing favourable ; but no amount of 
sagacity will teach a person that an itching in the point 
of his nose prognosticates the receipt of important news, 
or the cuckoo calling on the house-top the death of one 
of the inmates within the year. His utmost acuteness 
will fail to find in a shoulder-blade any indication of 
destiny, or any prophetic meaning in the sediment of a 
cup of tea. The meaning of these is a mystery to the 
uninitiated, and it is easy to see how they might be 
reduced to a system and lead to the wildest delusions 
of fortune-telling. 

Everything a Highlander of the old school set about, 
from the most trifling to the most important, was under 

■252 AUGURY. 

the influence of omens. When he went to fish, to catch 
his horse in the hill, to sell or buy at the market, to ask 
a loan from his neighbour, or whatever else he left home 
to do, he looked about for a sign of the success of his 
undertaking, and, if the omen were unpropitious, returned 
home. He knew his journey would be of no avail. He 
consulted mystagogues as to his fate, and at the proper 
seasons looked anxiously for the signs, of his luck". 
Like the rest of mankind, he was, by means of these, 
pleased or depressed in anticipation of events that were 
never to occur. Hence the saying, " Take a good omen 
as your omen, and you will be happy." 

Probably the Greek ixavrela, prediction by an oracle, 
is cognate to the Gaelic manadh, a foretoken, anything 
from which a prediction can be drawn. Both among 
Greeks and Celts a great number of omens were taken 
from birds. 

As already mentioned, it is a bad sign of a person's 
luck during the day that he should rise from bed on 
his left hand, wash himself with water in which eggs 
have been boiled, or the cakes for his breakfast should 
frequently break in the baking, or fall backwards. The 
coming evil can be averted in the latter case by giving 
plenty of ' butter without asking ' [Im gun iarraidK) 
with the cakes. Indeed, 'butter unasked for' is of 
sovereign value as an omen of luck. A cake spread 
with it, given to fishermen, secures a good day's fishing. 
It is reckoned good in diseases, particularly measles, 


and a most excellent omen for people going on a 
journey. Its not being given to Hugh of the Little 
Head, on the morning of his last battle, was followed 
by his losing the battle and his life. 

Omens are particularly to be looked for at the outset 
of a journey. If the first animal seen by the traveller 
have its back towards him, or he meet a sheep or a 
pig, or any unclean animal, or hear the shrill cry of the 
curlew, or see a heron, or he himself fall backward, 
or his walking-stick fall on the road, or he have to turn 
back for anything he has forgot, he may as well stay at 
home that day ; his journey will not prosper. A 
serpent, a rat, or a mouse is unlucky unless killed, 
but if killed becomes a good omen. If the face of the 
animal be towards one, even in the case of unlucky 
animals, the omen becomes less inauspicious. 

It is of great importance what person is first met. 
Women are unlucky, and some men are the most un- 
fortunate omen that can be encountered. These are 
called droch comhalaichean, i.e. bad people to meet, and 
it was told of a man in Skye, that to avoid the mis- 
chance of encountering one of them when setting out 
on a journey, he sent one of his own family to meet 
him. If he met any other he returned home. In a 
village in Ayrshire there are three persons noted for 
being inauspicious to meet, and fishermen (upon whom 
as a class this superstition has a strong hold) are much 
dissatisfied at meeting any of them. One of them is 

254 AUGURY. 

not so bad if he puts his hand to his face in a manner 
peculiar to him. It is inauspicious to meet a person 
from the same village as oneself, or a man with his 
head bare, or a man going to pay rent. Old people 
going to pay rent, therefore, took care to go away 
unobserved. A plain-soled person is unlucky, but the 
evil omen in his case is averted by rolling up the 
tongue against the roof of the mouth. The Stewarts 
were said to have insteps ; water flowed below their 
foot; it was, therefore, fortunate to meet any of them. 
All risk of a stranger proving a bad comhalaiche 
is avoided by his returning a few steps with the 

A hare crossing one's path is unlucky, and old people, 
when they saw one before them, made considerable de- 
tours to avoid such a calamity. The disfavour with which 
this harmless animal and the pig were regarded no 
doubt arose from their being unclean under the Levi- 
tical Law. The hare chews the cud, but divides not 
the hoof ; the pig divides the hoof, but does not chew 
the cud. 

The fox is unlucky to meet, a superstition that pre- 
vails also in East Africa. The King of Karague told 
Captain Speke that " if a fox barked when he was 
leading an army to battle, he would retire at once, 
knowing that this prognosticated evil " {Journal, p. 

It is unlucky to look back after setting out. Old 


people, if they had to turn to a person coming after 
them, covered their face. This superstition probably 
had its origin in the story of Lot's wife. Fin MacCoul, 
according to a popular tale, never looked back after 
setting out on a journey. When he went on the ex- 
pedition that terminated in his being " in the house 
of the Yellow Forehead without liberty to sit down 
or power to stand up," he laid spells on his com- 
panions, that no man born in Ireland should follow him. 
Fergus, who was born in Scotland, followed, and Fin, 
hearing footsteps behind him, called out without turn- 
ing his head, in a phrase now obsolete, Co sid a propadh 
mo cheaplaich ? i.e., it is supposed, " Who is that follow- 
ing my footsteps?" 

To be called after is a sure omen that a person will 
not get what he is going in search of This belief 
gave great powers of annoyance to people of a waggish 
humour. When everything prognosticated success, 
and the fishing boat had left the shore, or the old 
man, staff in hand, had set out on his journey, some 
onlooker cried out, " There is the fox before you and 
after you " ; or, " Have you got the fish-hooks ? " or, 
" Have you taken the Bait-stone ? " ^ Immediately a 
damp was thrown on the expedition, a return home 
was made for that day, and the wag might be glad if 

' The Bait-stone (Clack shuill) was a stone on which to break shell-fish, 
potatoes, etc., to be thrown into the water to attract fish. The broken 
bait was called soil, faoire. 


the party called after did not make him rue his 

Of omens referring to other events in the life of 
man than the success of particular expeditions may be 
mentioned the following : 

A golden plover {Feadag, Charadrius pluvialis), heard 
at night, portends the near approach of death or other 
evil. The cry of the bird is a melancholy wailing note. 

A pied wagtail {Breac an t-sll, motaeilla alba), seen 
between them and the house, was a sign of being 
turned out of the house that year and ' losing the site ' 
(call na Idraick). 

The mole burrowing below a house is a sign the 
tenants will not stay long on that site. 

If the cuckoo calls on the house-top, or, on the 
chimney {luidheir), death will occur in the house 
that year. 

In spring and early summer the omens of happiness 
and prosperity, or misery and adversity for the year, 
are particularly looked for. It is most unfortunate if 
the first foal or lamb seen that season have its tail 
toward the beholder, or the first snail (some say stone- 
chat) be seen on the road or on a bare stone, and a 
most unmistakable sign of misfortune to hear the 
cuckoo for the first time before tasting food in the 
morning, ' on the first appetite ' {air a chiad lomaidh), 
as it is called. In the latter case, the cuckoo is said 
' to soil upon a person ' {ckac a chuthag air), and, to 

AUGURY. 257 

avoid such an indignity, people have been known, at 
the time of the cuckoo's visit, to put a piece of bread 
below their pillow to be eaten the first thing in the 

Cock-crowing before midnight is an indication of 
coming news. Old people said the bird had ' a tale ' 
to tell ; and, when they heard it, went to see if its legs 
were cold or not. If cold, the tale will be one of death; 
if hot, a good tale. The direction in which the bird's 
head is turned indicates the direction in which the tale 
is to come. 

In visiting the sick, it is a sign of the termination of 
the illness whether it be the right or the left foot that 
touches the threshold first. 

Women pretended to know when they laid their 
hand on a sick person whether he would recover. 

It is a good sign if the face of the chimney-crook 
{aghaidh na slabhraidh) be toward the visitor, but an 
evil omen if its back be toward him. 



These are bodily sensations by which future events 
may be foreknown. An itching in the nose foretells 
that a letter is coming, and this in olden times was a 
matter of no small consequence. There is an itching 
of the mouth that indicates a kiss, and another indicat- 
ing a dram. A singing or tingling in the ears denotes 
death, a friend at the moment of its occurence has 
expired and news of his death will be heard before 
long ; an itching of the cheek or eyes, weeping ; itching 
of the left hand, money ; of the right, that one is soon 
to meet a stranger with whom he will shake hands ; of 
the elbow, that he will soon change beds or sleep with 
a stranger ; of the brow, that some person will make 
you angry before long. 

Hot ears denote that some person is speaking about 
your character. If the heat be in the right ear, he is 
supporting or praising you ; if in the left, he is speaking 



ill of you {Chluas dheas gain thoirt a nuas ; 's a chluas 
chli gam shior-chclineadli). In the latter case persons 
of a vindictive nature repeated the following words : 

" He who speaks of me, 
If it be not to my advantage, 
May he be tossed 
On sharp grey knives. 
May he sleep in an ant-hill. 
And may it be no healthy sleep to him, 
But a furious woman between him and the door. 
And I between him and his property and sleep." ■* 

The evil wish went on, that " an iron harrow might 
scrape his guts,'' and something about " a dead old 
woman " that my informant could not remember. 

Trial i^Deuchainn). — The deuchainn al. diackuinn^some- 
times called fridh, omen, was a ' cast ' or trial made 
by lots or other appeal to chance to find out the issue 
of undertakings — whether an absent friend was on his 
way home or would arrive safe ; whether a sick man 
will recover ; whether good or bad fortune awaits 
one during the year ; what the future husband or wife 
is to be ; the road stolen goods have taken, etc. This 

' " A neach tha gam iomradh, 
Mar h-ann air mo leas e, 
Esan bhi ga iomluain 
Air sgeanabh geura glasa, 
Cadal an torn seangain da, 
'S na na cadal fallain da; 
Ach baobh eadar e 's an dorus, 
'S mis' eadar e 's a chuid 's a chadal. 
Cliath-chliat iarruinn a sgriobadh a mhionaich, 
, . . Cailleach nharbh . . . ." 


cast may be either for oneself or for another, "for him 
and for his luck " {air a short 's air a shealbhaich). On 
New- Year day people are more disposed to wonder 
and speculate as to their fortunes during the year upon 
which they have entered than to reflect upon the 
occurrences of the past. Hence these ' casts ' were 
most frequently made on that day. Another favourite 
time was Hallowmas night. Most of them might be 
made at any time of the year, and the difficulty was 
not in making them but in interpreting them. 

In making a ' cast ' for one's future partner, the 
approved plan is for him to go at night to the top of a 
cairn or other eminence where no four-footed beast can 
go, and whatever animal is thence seen or met on the 
way home is an omen of the future husband or wife. 
It requires great shrewdness to read the omen aright. 

Another way is to shut the eyes, make one's way to 
the end of the house, and then, and not till then, open 
the eyes and look around. Whatever is then seen is 
an indication of fortune during the year. It is unlucky 
to see a woman, particularly an old woman bent with 
age and hobbling past. A man is lucky, particularly a 
young man riding gaily on a mettlesome horse. A 
man delving or turning up the earth forebodes death ; 
he is making your grave, and you may as well prepare. 
A duck or a hen with its head below its wing is just as 
bad, and the more that are seen in that attitude the 
speedier or more certain the death. A man who had 


the second sight once made a ' trial ' for a sick person 
at the request of an anxious friend. He went out next 
morning to the end of the house in the approved 
manner. He saw six ducks with their heads under 
their wings, and the sick man was dead in less than 
two days. 

Other seers, who made ' trials ' for reward, made the 
person who consulted them burn straw in front of a 
sieve and then look through to see ' what they should 
see.' From the objects seen the seer foretold what was 
to befall. 

When a trial was made to ascertain whether an 
absent friend would return, if on going out to the end 
of the house a man is seen coming, or a duck running 
towards the seer, his safe arrival will soon be ; but if 
the object be moving away, the indication is unfavour- 
able. By this trial it may also be known whether the 
absent one will return empty-handed or not. 

Another mode of deuchainn, for the same purpose, is 
to take a chance stick and measure it in thumb-breadths, 
beginning at its thick or lower end, and saying, when 
the thumb is laid on the stick, no or yes as the opinion 
of the person consulting the oracle may incline, and 
repeating yes, no, alternately till the other end is 
reached. According to the position of the last thumb 
will the answer be affirmative or negative or doubtful. 

When a young woman wants to ascertain whether a 
young man in whom she feels an interest loves her. 


let her look between her fingers at him and say the 
following charm. If his first motion is to raise his 
right arm she is Secure of his affections. 

" I have a trial upon you, 
I have a looking at you, 
Between the five ribs of Christ's body ; 
If it be fated or permitted you 
To make use of me. 
Lift your right hand. 
And let it not quickly down." ' 

In the detection of theft the diviner's utmost skill 
could only determine the direction the stolen goods 
had taken. 


Divination (Fiosachd). — The same causes which in 
other countries led to oracles, astrology, necromancy, 
card-reading, and other forms of divination, in the 
Scottish Highlands led to the reading of shoulder- 
blades and tea-cups, palmistry, and the artless spinning 
of tee-totums (dhdumari). In a simple state of society 
mummeries and ceremonies, dark caves, darkened rooms, 
and other aids to mystification are not required to bring 
custom to the soothsayer. The desire of mankind, 
particularly the young, to have pleasant anticipations 

' ' ' Tha deuchainn agam dhuit, 
Tha sealltuinn agam ort, 
Eadar coig aisnean cleibh Chriosd ; 
Ma tha 'n dan no 'n ceadachadh dhuil, 
Feum dheanadh dhiom. 
Tog do lamh dheas a suas, 
'S na luaith i nios. " 


of the future, supply all deficiencies in his artifices. 
One or two shrewd guesses establish a reputation, and 
ordinarily there is no scepticism or inquiry as to the 
sources of information. It is noticeable that the chief 
articles from which the Highland soothsayer drew his 
predictions, supplied him with a luxury. 

Shoulder-blade Reading {Slittneineachd). — This mode 
of divination was practised, like the augury of the 
ancients, as a profession or trade. It consisted in 
foretelling important events in the life of the owner of 
a slaughtered animal from the marks on the shoulder- 
blade, speal or blade-bone. Professors of this difficult 
art deemed the right speal-bone of a black sheep or a 
black pig the best for this purpose. This was to be 
boiled thoroughly, so that the flesh might be stripped 
clean from it, untouched by nail or knife or tooth. 
The slightest scratch destroyed its value. The bone 
being duly prepared was divided into upper and lower 
parts, corresponding to the natural features of the 
district in which the divination was made. Certain 
marks indicated a crowd of people, met, according to 
the skill of the diviner, at a funeral, fight, sale, etc. 
The largest hole or indentation was the grave of the 
beast's owner (t'laigh an t-sealbhaduir), and from its 
position his living or dying that year was prognosti- 
cated. When to the side of the bone, it presaged 
death ; when in its centre, much worldly prosperity 
(^guni biodh an saoghal aige). 


Mac-a-Chreachaire, a native of Barra, was a cele- 
brated shoulder-blade reader in his day. According 
to popular tradition he was present at the festivities 
held on the occasion of the castle at Bdgh Chihsamul 
(the seat of the MacNeills, then chiefs of the island) 
being finished. A shoulder-blade was handed to him, 
and he was pressed again and again to divine from it 
the fate of the castle. He was very reluctant, but at 
last, on being promised that no harm would be done 
him, he said the castle would become a cairn for thrushes 
{earn dhruideachuii), and this would happen when the 
Rattle stone {Clach-a-Ghlagain) was found, when 
people worked at sea-weed in Baile na Creige (Rock- 
town, a village far from the sea), and when deer swam 
across from Uist, and were to be found on every dung- 
hill in Barra. All this has happened, and the castle is 
now in ruins. Others say the omens were the arrival 
of a ship with blue wool, a blind man coming ashore 
unaided, and that when a ground officer with big fingers 
{inaor na miar mora) came, Barra would be measured 
with an iron string. A ship laden with blue cloth was 
wrecked on the island, and a blind man miraculously 
escaped ; every finger of the ground officer proved to 
be as big as a bottle (!), and Barra was surveyed and 

When Murdoch the Short {Murchadh Gearr), heir to 
the Lordship of Lochbuy in the Island of Mull, circ. 
A.D. 1400, was sent in his childhood for protection 


from the ambitious designs of his uncle, the Laird of 
Dowart, to Ireland, he remained there till eighteen 
years of age. In the meantime his sister (or half- 
sister) became widowed, and, dependant on the charity 
and hospitality of others, wandered about the Ross of 
Mull from house to house with her family. It was 
always " in the prophecy " {san tairgneachcT) that 
Murdoch would return. One evening, in a house to 
which his sister came, a wedder sheep was killed. 
After the meal was over, her oldest boy asked the 
farmer for the shoulder-blade. He examined it in- 
tently for some time in silence, and then, exclaiming 
that Murdoch was on the soil of Mull {air grunnd 
Mhuile), rushed out of the house and made for Loch- 
buy, to find his uncle in possession of his rightful 

On the night of the massacre of Glencoe, a party of 
the ill-fated clansmen were poring over the shoulder- 
blade of an animal slain for the hospitable entertain- 
ment of the soldiers. One of them said, " There is a 
shedding of blood in the glen " {tJta dortadh fuil sa 
ghleann). Another said there was only the stream at 
the end of the house between them and it. The whole 
party rushed to the door, and were among the few that 
escaped the butchery of that dreadful night. 

It is a common story that a shoulder-blade seer 
once saved the lives of a company, of whom he him- 
self was one, who had ' lifted ' a cattle spoil {preach). 


by divining that there was only the stream at the 
end of the house between them and their pursuers. 

A shoulder-blade sage in Tiree sat down to a sub- 
stantial feast, to which he had been specially invited, 
that he might divine whether a certain friend was on 
his way home or not. He examined the shoulder-bone 
of the wedder killed on the occasion critically, unable 
to make up his mind. " Perhaps," he said, " he will 
come, perhaps he will not." A boy, who had hid 
himself on the top of a bed in the room, that he might 
see the fun, could not help exclaiming, " They cannot 
find you untrue." The bed broke, and the diviner and 
his companions, thinking the voice came from the skies, 
fled. When the boy recovered he got the dinner all to 

Palmistry {Dearnadaireachd). — Of this mode of divi- 
nation, as practised in the Highlands, nothing seems 
now to be known beyond the name. Probably from 
the first the knowledge of it was confined to gipsies 
and such like stray characters. 

Divination by Tea, or Cup-reading {Leughadh chu- 
paichean). — When tea was a luxury, dear and difficult to 
get, the ' spacing ' of fortunes from tea-cups was in 
great repute. Even yet young women resort in num- 
bers to fortune-tellers of the class, who for the reward 
of the tea spell out to them most excellent matches. 

After drinking the tea, the person for whom the cup 
is to be read, turning the cup deiseal, or with the 


right-hand turn, is to make a small drop, left in it, 
wash its sides all round, and then pour it out. The 
fortune is then read from the arrangement of the 
sediments or tea-leaves left in the cup. A large 
quantity of black tea grounds {smurack dii) denotes 
substance and worldly gear. The person consulting 
the oracle is a stray leaf standing to the one side of it. 
If the face of the leaf is towards the grounds, that 
person is to come to a great fortune ; if very ijositively 
its back, then farewell even to the hope " that keeps 
alive despair." A small speck by itself is a letter, and 
other specks are envious people struggling to get to 
the top, followers, etc. Good diviners can even tell to 
their youthful and confiding friends when the letter is 
likely to arrive, what trade their admirer follows, the 
colour of his hair, etc. 



Dreams {Bruadar) have everywhere been laid hold of 
by superstition as indications of what is passing at a 
distance or of what is to occur, and, considering the 
vast numbers of dreams there are, it would be matter 
of surprise, if a sufficient number did not prove so like 
some remote or subsequent event, interesting to the 
dreamer, as to keep the belief alive. On a low calcu- 
lation, a fourth of the population dream every night, 
and in the course of a year, the number of dreams in a 
district must be incredible. They are generally about 
things that have been, or are, causes of anxiety, or 
otherwise occupied men's waking thoughts. " A dream 
cometh through the multitude of business," Solomon 
says, and a Gaelic proverb says with equal truth " An 
old wife's dream is according to her inclination " 
{Aisling caillich mas a durachd). Its character can 
sometimes be traced directly to the health or position 
of the body, but in other cases, it seems to depend 



on the uncontrolled association of ideas. Out of the 
numberless phantasies that arise there must surely be 
many that the imagination can without violence convert 
into forebodings and premonitions. 

To dream of raw meat indicates impending trouble ; 
eggs mean gossip and scandal ; herring, snow ; meal, 
earth ; a grey horse, the sea. To dream of women is 
unlucky ; and of the dead, that they are not at rest. 
In the Hebrides, a horse is supposed to have reference 
to the Clan Mac Leod. The surname of horses is 
Mac Leod, as the Coll bard said to the Skye bard : 

" Often rode I with my bridle, 
The race you and your wife belong to."' 

In some districts horses meant the Macgnanean, and a 
white horse, a letter. 

Prophecies (Fdisneachd). — In Argyllshire and Perth- 
shire, the celebrated Thomas the Rhymer {Tbmas 
Reuvair, T. Reini) is as well known as in the Lowlands 
of Scotland. He is commonly called " the son of the 
dead woman " {inac na mna mairbk), but the accounts 
vary as to the cause of this name. One account says, 
he was, like Julius Caesar, taken out through his 
mother's side, immediately after her death ; another, 
that the cry of the child was heard in the mother's 
tomb after her burial, and on the grave being opened 
Thomas was found in the coffin. A third account 

'"Is trie a mharcaich mi le 'm shrein 

An dream gam bheil the fhein 's do bhean." 


says, that a woman, whose husband had been cut in 
four pieces, engaged a tailor, at the price of the sur- 
render of her person, to sew the pieces together again. 
He did so in two hours time. Some time after the 
woman died and was buried. Subsequently, she met 
the tailor at night, and leading him to her tomb, the 
child was found there. Both the Highland and Low- 
land accounts agree that Thomas's gift of prophecy 
was given him by a Fairy sweetheart, that he is at 
present among the Fairies, and will yet come back. 

The Highland tradition is, that Thomas is in 
Dunbuck hill {Dim buic) near Dunbarton. The last 
person that entered that hill found him resting on his 
elbow, with his hand below his head. He asked, " Is 
it time ? " and the man fled. In the outer Hebrides he 
is said to be in Tom-na-heurich hill,^ near Inverness. 
Hence MacCodrum, the Uist bard, says : 

" When the hosts of Tomnaheurich come, 
Who should rise first but Thomas ?"^ 

He attends every market on the look-out for suitable 

' Tom-na-h-iubhraich, the Boat Mound, probably derives its name from 
its resemblance to a boat, bottom upwards. Another popular account 
makes it the abode of the Feinne, or Fin Mac Coul and his men. There is 
a huge chain suspended from the roof, and if any mortal has the courage to 
strike it three times with his fist, the heroes will rise again. A person 
struck it twice, and was so terrified by the howling of the big dogs {donnal 
na con mhra) that he fled. A voice called' after him, " Wretched mischief- 
making man, that worse hast left than found" (Dhuine dhon a dkblaick, 's 
mtosa dKfhh.g na fhuair). 

^" Dar thigedh sluagh Tom na h-iubhraich, 
Co dh' eireadh air tus ach Timas ? " 


horses, as the Fairies in the north of Ireland attend to 
steal Hnen and other goods, exposed for sale. It is 
only horses with certain characteristics that he will 
take. At present he wants but two, some say only 
one, a yellow foal with a white forehead {searrach bldr 
buidhe). The other is to be a white horse that has got 
" three March, three May, and three August months 
of its mother's milk " {trl Mairt, tt't Maigh, agus trl 
luchara 'bhainne inhathar) ; and in Mull they say, one 
of the horses is to be from the meadow of Kengharair 
in that island. When his complement is made up he 
will become visible, and a great battle will be fought 
on the Clyde. 

"When Thomas comes with his horses, 
The day of spoils will be on the Clyde, 
Nine thousand good men will be slain, 
And a new king will be set on the throne.'" 

You may walk across the Clyde, the prophecy goes 
on to relate, on men's bodies, and the miller of Partick 
Mill {Muilionn Phearaig), who is to be a man with seven 
fingers, will grind for two hours with blood instead of 
water. After that, sixteen ladies will follow after one 
lame tailor,^ a prophecy copied from Isaiah iv. i. A 
stone in the Clyde was pointed out as one, on which a 

" ^Nuair thig Tomas le chuid each, 

Bi latha nan creach air Cluaidh, 

Millear naoi mile fear maith, 

'S theid righ 6g air a chrun." 

^" Bi sia baintighearnun diag as deigh an aon tailleir chrubaich." 


bird {bigein) would perch and drink its full of blood, 
without bending its head, but the River Trustees have 
blasted it out of the way that the prophecy may not 
come true. The same prophecy, with slight variation, 
has been transferred to Blair Athole in Perthshire. 
" When the white cows come to Blair, the wheel of 
Blair Mill will turn round seven times with people's 
blood."' The writer was told that the Duke of Athole 
brought white cattle to Blair more than fifteen years 
ago, but nothing extraordinary happened. 

Other prophecies, ascribed to the Rhymer, are, " the 
sheep's skull will make the plough useless," " the south 
sea will come upon the north sea," and " Scotland will 
be in white bands, and a lump of gold will be at the 
bottom of every glen."^ The former has received its 
fulfilment in the desolation caused by the extension of 
sheep farms, the second in the making of the Caledonian 
canal, and the last in the increase of highroads and 

In the North Highlands, prophecies of this kind are 
ascribed to Coineach Odhar {i.e. Dun Kenneth), a native 
of Ross-shire, whose name is hardly known in Argyll- 
shire. He acquired his prophetic gift from the 

^"Meair thig an cro ban do Bhlar, cuirear seachd cuir de chuibhle 
mhuilinn Bhiair le fuil sluaigh." 

^" Cuiridh claigionn na caorach an crann s fheum, no an crann araidh air 
an fharadh ; 

Thig a mhuir deas air a mhuir tuath ; 

Bi Albainn na criosun geala, 

'S meall 6ir ann am bun gach glinne. '' 


possession of a stone, which he found in a raven's nest. 

He first found a raven's nest with eggs in it. These he 

took home and boiled. He then took them back to the 

nest, with a view to finding out how long the bird would 

sit before it despaired of hatching them. He found a 

stone in the nest before him, and its possession was 

the secret of his oracular gifts. When this became 

known an attempt was made to take the stone from 

him, but he threw it out in a loch, where it still lies. 

He prophesied that " the raven will drink its fill of 

men's blood from off the ground, on the top of the 

High Stone in Uig,"^ a place in Skye. The High 

Stone is on a mountain's brow, and it is ominous of the 

fulfilment of the prophecy, that it has fallen on its side. 

Of the Well of Ta, at Cill-a-cliro in Strath, in the same 

island, he said : 

" Thou well of Ta, and well of Ta, 
Well where battle shall be fought. 
And the bones of growing men, 

Will strew the white beach of Laoras ; 
And Lachlan of the three Lachlans be slain 
Early, early, 

At the well of Ta." 2 

^"Olaidh am fitheach a shath, bhar an lair, air muUach clach ard an 

2" Tobar Tath sin, 's lobar Tath, 
Tobar aig an cuirear blar, 
'S bi cnaimhean nam fear fas 
Air traigh bhan Laorais 
'S marbhar Lachunn nan tri Lachunn 
Gu moch, moch, aig tobar Tath. 
Al. Torcuil nan tri Torcuil." 


In Harris a cock will crow on the very day 
on which it is hatched, and a white calf, without a 
single black hair, will be born, both which remarkable 
events have, it is said, occurred. A certain large stone 
will roll up the hill, turning over three times, and the 
marks of it having done so, and the proof of the 
prophecy, are still to be seen. On the top of a high 
stone in Scaristavor parks,^ the raven will drink its fill 
of men's blood, and the tide of battle will be turned 
back by Norman of the three Normans {Tormod nan 
trl Tormoidean) at the Steps of Tarbert {Cathaichean 
an Tairbearf)?' 

The Lady of Lawers. — Of similar fame for her pro- 
phetic gifts was the Lady of Lawers {Bantighearna 
Lathuir), one of the Breadalbane family, married to 
Campbell of Lawers. Her prophecies relate to the 
house and lands of Breadalbane, and are written, it is 
believed, in a book shaped like a barrel, and secured 
with twelve iron hoops or clasps in the charter room of 

^This stone is about ten ft. high, and is one of the three fragments into 
which a larger stone, used by an old woman of former days as a hammer to 
knock limpets off the rocks (ird bhairneach), was broken. Of the other 
two, one is in Uigh an du tuath, and one in Tarnsa Islet. At a spot 
from which these three fragments can be seen, there is hidden an urn of 
silver and an urn of gold {croggan bir 'j cr. airgid). It is easy to find a 
place whence one can see two, but when about to see the third, one of the 
first two disappears. Five or six yards make all the difference. A herds- 
man once found the spot, but when digging for the treasure he happened 
to see a heifer that had fallen on its back in a stream. He ran to its rescue, 
and never could find the place again. 

"^Chth, prob. a step path in a rock. 


Taymouth Castle. This book is called ' The Red 
Book of Balloch.' 

An old white horse will yet take the lineal heirs 
of Taymouth (or, according to another version, the 
last Breadalbane Campbells) across Tyndrum Cairn. 
When she said this there were thirty sons in the 
family, but soon after twenty-five of them were slain 
in the battle at Sron-a-chlachair near Killin {Cill- 

If the top stone were ever put on Lawers Church no 
word uttered by her would ever come true, and when 
the red cairn on Ben Lawers fell the church would 
split. In the same year that the cairn, built by the 
sappers and miners on Ben Lawers, fell, the Disruption 
in the Church of Scotland took place. 

" A mill will be on every streamlet, 
A plough in every boy's hand. 
The two sides of Loch Tay in kail gardens ; 
The sheep's skull will make the plough useless. 
And the goose's feathers drive their memories from men."' 

This was to happen in the time of " John of the three 
Johns, the worst John that ever was, and there will be 
no good till Duncan comes." 

A stone called the ' Boar Stone ' {Clach an Tuirc), 

'" Bi muilionn air gach sruthan, 
Crann an laimh gach giuUain, 
Da thaobh Loch Tatha na gh^racha-cail, 
Cuiridh claigionn na caorach an crann o fheum, 
'S cuiridh ite geoidh an cuimhn' a duine." 


a boulder of some two or three hundred tons in a 
meadow near Loch Tay, will topple over when a 
strange heir comes to Taymouth, and the house will be 
at its height of honour when the face of a certain rock 
is concealed by wood. 



The imprecations, which form so important a part of 
the vocabulary of thoughtless and profane swearing, are 
in Gaelic corruptions of English expressions. Thus, 
one of the commonest — diabhul Mac-eadhar is a 
corruption of ' devil may care,' and though no language 
has a monopoly of oaths and curses, and English is not 
always to blame, it is some satisfaction that needless 
profanity is not entirely of native growth. * 

Most Gaelic imprecations are mere exclamations, 
condemnatory not so much of the person himself as of 
what he is saying or doing. Of these the following are 
of common use : 

A bad meeting to you ! {Droch cbmh V ort .'). 
A bad growth to you ! {Drochfis ort !). 
Bad understanding to you ! {Droch ciall ort.'). 
Bad accident to you ! {Droch sgiorram ort /). 

Bad .' to you ! {Gum bu droch druileach ! 

or druthalach dhuit !). 


Black water upon you ! {Burn du ort !)^ 

A down mouth be yours ! {Beul slos ort /).^ 

A wry mouth be yours ! {^Beul seachad ort!). 

Go to your grandfather's house ! ( Tigh do sheamar dhuit !). 

The mischief be in your side ! {An dunaigh ad chliathaich .'). 

The burning of your heart to you ! {Losgadh do chridhe ort!). 

Little increase to you ! (Beagan piseaclt ort!). 

Little prosperity to you! {Beagan hidh ort!). 

The spell of your death-stroke be yours ! {Sian do ghonaidh ort!). 

Death without a priest to you ! {Bds gun sagart ort!). 

Wind without rising be yours ! {Gaoth gun direadh ort!), i.e. a 

wind that will throw you on your beam-ends, and not allow 

you to right. 
Your black certain death-stroke to you ! {Sclr du do ghonaidh 

The place of the dead be yours ! {Marasg, i.e. marbh-thasg, 

The number of Friday be yours ! " The curse of Friday be 

yours ! " " The end of the seven Saturdays to you ! " 
May you be late ! {Gu ma h-anamocli dliuit !). 
The direction in which you turn the back of your head, may 

you never turn your face ! {An 'toabh bheir thusa ciil do 

chijin, gar an d thig an t-aon latha blieir tliu f aghaidh !), 

etc., etc. 

When a curse proceeds from rage or malevolence, it 
is at the same time a confession of impotence. The 

'Does this refer to excommunication? A candle was then extinguished 
in water. 

^ Perhaps this means burial with the face downwards. The mother of an 
illegitimate child, which died in infancy, and the paternity of which was 
denied, declared if she had known that would be the case, she would have 
buried the child with its face downward. This was said to be in Tiree, 
but all the writer's inquiries failed to find any one who had ever heard of 
such a thing being done. It is a saying " a down mouth to women if they 
are not to be found everywhere" (Beul sios air na mnat/ian, mar faighear 
^ s gacJi hit iad). 


party uttering it is unable at the moment to indulge 
his rancour in any other way. If he had the power 
he would bring all the woes he threatens or impre- 
cates there and then on his enemy's devoted head. 
Patience is no element of wrath and rarely enters 
the house of malevolence, and if the man who curses 
his enemy had the artillery of heaven at command, 
he would at that moment devote his enemy to 
unspeakable misery. This impotence of rage is the 
reason why curses are so frequently ascribed to angry 
old women. 

Those who have seen old women, of the Madge 
Wildfire school, cursing and banning, say their manner 
is well calculated to inspire terror. Some fifteen or 
twenty years ago, a party of tinkers quarrelled and 
fought, first among themselves, and then with some 
Tiree villagers. In the excitement a tinker wife threw 
off her cap and allowed her hair to fall over her 
shoulders in wild disorder. She then bared her knees, 
and falling on them to the ground, in a praying 
attitude, poured forth a torrent of wishes that struck 
awe into all who heard her. She imprecated " Drown- 
ing by sea and conflagration by land ; may you never 
see a son to follow your body to the graveyard, or a 
daughter to mourn your death. I have made my wish 
before this, and I will make it now, and there was not 
yet a day I did not see my wish fulfilled," etc., etc. 
" Once," says one who is now an old man, " when a boy 


I roused the anger of an old woman by calling her 
names. She went on her knees and cursed me, and I 
thought I was going to die suddenly every day for a 
week after.'' 

The curse causeless will not come, but a curse 
deserved is the foreshadowing of the ultimate issue of 
events. The curse of the oppressed, who have no man 
to deliver them, is at times but the presage of the 
retribution which the operation of the laws of the 
moral world will some day bring about. Hence we 
find such expressions as, " She cursed him and obtained 
her wish." The curse came upon the oppressor, not 
because of the malediction, but because what was asked 
for was part of the natural sequence of events in the 
moral government of the world. For this reason, the 
curse of the poor is undesirable. There is something 
wrong in the relation between superior and inferior 
when it is uttered ; authority has been misused, and 
wisdom and patience have been awanting, selfishness 
has overstepped its due limit, and the just influence of 
the superior has degenerated into wantonness of power. 
In the expatriations from the Highlands, there was 
much in this respect to be reprobated, and it is most 
creditable to Highlanders, and is greatly to be ascribed 
to the influence of religion over them, that in the songs 
made at the time of the Clearances, there are no curses 
against the oppressor. 

A common expression in the imprecations used by 

IMPRECA riONS. 28 1 

old women was, " May no benefit be in your cheese, 
and no cheese in your milk."^ 

There is said to be a curse on an estate in Argyll- 
shire, that a lineal descendant will never succeed to it, 
and on one of the principal castles in Perthshire, that no 
legitimate heir {oighre dligheacJt) will own it till the third 
generation {^gus an treasa linn). This latter curse was 
caused by the haughtiness of an old woman, a former 
mistress of the castle, who lived entirely on marrow. 

All evil wishes can be counteracted by the bystander 
saying, after each curse, " The fruit of your wish be on 
your own body " ( Toradh do ghuidhe far, etc.). On the 
occasion above referred to, of the banning by the 
tinker wife, her frightful tirade became ludicrous from 
the earnestness with which this was done by one of the 
native women who was listening. 

SPELLS {Geasan no Geasaibh). 

A person under spells is believed to become 
powerless over his own volition, is alive and awake, 
but moves and acts as if asleep. He is like St. 
John's father, not able or not allowed to speak. He 
is compelled to go to certain places at certain hours 
or seasons, is sent wandering or is driven from his 
kindred and changed to other shapes. 

In nursery and winter evening tales (sgialachdun 
'us ur-sgeulun) the machinery of spells is largely 

^"Nach faicear toradh ad im, no im ann ad bhainne." 


made use of. In the former class of tales they 
are usually imposed on king's children by an old 
woman dwelling near the palace, called " Trouble- 
the-house" {Eachrais tirlair, lit. confusion of the 
floor). Her house is the favourite place for the 
king's children to meet their lovers. She has a 
divining rod {slacan driiidheachcT), by a blow from 
which she can convert people into rocks, seals, swans, 
wolves, etc., and this shape they must keep till they 
are freed by the same rod. Nothing else can deliver 
them from the spell. 

The story usually runs that the king is married a 
second time. His daughter by the first marriage 
is very handsome, and has a smooth comb {cir mhin) 
which makes her hair, when combed by it, shed gold 
and precious gems. The daughters by the second 
marriage are ugly and ill-natured. When they comb 
their hair there is a shower of fleas and frogs. Their 
mother bribes Trouble-the-house to lay spells on the 
daughter of the first marriage. Unless the princess 
enters the house the old woman is powerless to do 
this. One day the beautiful princess passes near 
the house, and is kindly and civilly asked to enter. 
"Come you in," says the designing hag, " often did 
I lick the platters and pick the bones in your father's 
house." ' Misled by this artful talk, the princess 

' " Is trie a bha mise 'g imlich na mias agiis a' lomadh nan cnamh an 
tigh t' athar." 

SPELLS. 283 

enters, is struck with the magic rod, and converted 
into a swan. 

It is a popular saying that seals and swans are 
" king's children under enchantments " {clann sigh fo 
gheasaibh). On lonely mountain meres, where the 
presence of man is seldom seen, swans have been 
observed putting off their coverings (cochult) and 
assuming their proper shape of beautiful princesses 
in their endeavours to free themselves from the 
spells. This, however, is impossible till the magician, 
who imposed them, takes them away, and the 
princesses are obliged to resume their coverings 

The expressive countenance and great intelligence 
of the seal, the readiness with which it can be 
domesticated, and the attachment which, as a pet, 
it shows to man, have not unnaturally led to stories 
of its being a form assumed by, or assigned to, some 
higher intelligence from choice or by compulsion. 
In Caithness, seals are deemed to be the fallen 
angels, and the Celtic belief that they are " king's 
children under spells " is paralleled in the Shetland 
tales of the Norway Finns. These are persons, a 
native of these northern islands writes (in a private 
letter), who come across from Norway to Shetland in 
the shape of large seals. A Shetlander on his way 
to the fishing, early in the morning, came across a 
large seal lying asleep on a rock. Creeping quietly 


up he managed to stab it with his knife. The 
animal was only slightly wounded and floundered 
into the water, taking the knife along with it. 
Sometime afterwards the fisherman went, with others, 
to Norway to buy wood. In the first house he 
entered he saw his own big knife stuck up under 
a beam. He gave himself up for lost, but the 
Norwegian took down the knife and gave it back 
to him, telling him never again to disturb a poor 
sea-animal taking its rest. 

There is a sept in North Uist known as " the 
MacCodrums of the seals " {Clann 'ic Codrum nan 
rojn), from being said to be descendants of these 
enchanted seals. The progenitor of the family, being 
down about the shore, saw the seals putting off 
their coverings and washing themselves. He fled 
home with one of the skins and hid it above the 
lintel of the door, ' arabocan ' as it is called in that 
part of the country. The owner of the covering 
followed him. He clad her with human garments, 
married her, and had a family by her. She managed 
ultimately to regain possession of her lost covering 
and disappeared. 

West of Uist there is a rock called Connsmun, 
to which the neighbouring islanders are in the habit 
of going yearly to kill seals. On one of these 
expeditions a young man, named Egan, son of 
Egan, killed a large seal in the usual manner by a 

Spells. 285 

knock on the head, and put a withe through its 
paw to secure it, while he himself went to attend to 
other matters. When he came back, however, the 
seal was gone. Sometime after he was driven away 
in a storm, and landed in a district he did not 
recognize. He made his way to one of the houses, 
and was very hospitably entertained. His host, who 
had been surveying him intently, when the meal was 
over asked his name. He told, and his host said, 
" Egan, son of Egan, though I have given you meat, 
and cheese, and eggs, upon your two hands be it, 
Egan, son of Egan, you put the withe through my 
fist." ' 


Nothing was known in the Highlands of the dark 
science beyond what is conveyed in the name given to 
it, ' Satan's black school ' {Sgoil du Shatain), and a few 
anecdotes of its more illustrious students. All accounts 
agree that Michael Scott was an advanced scholar. 
He, by his skill in it, made a brazen man, whom he 
compelled to do all his work for him. By means of 
him he brought the Flanders Moss {Mkbinteack Fhlans- 
rach), in the Carse of Stirling, across from the conti- 
nent on bearers (Junnun). The moss is twenty-three 
miles long, and lies north of Stirling, where, unfortu- 
nately, the bearers broke. The Mull doctor {an t-ollainh 

1 " Ged thug mi biadh 'us caise 's uibhean duit, air do dha laimh, 
logain 'ic logain, chuir thu 'n gad roi mo dhirn." 


MuileacJi)^ and the I slay doctor {an t-ollamh Ileack) 
also attended the school, and adventures are assigned 
to them as to the other scholars. 

Cameron of Locheil {Mac DhouilL dui, the son of 
Black Donald, is the Highland patronymic of the chiefs 
of this house), Macdonald of Keppoch {Mac-ic-Rao'uill), 
and Mackenzie of Brahan were at the school together, 
and when their education was finished the devil was to 
get as his fee whoever of them was hindmost. The 
three young men made a plan to chase each other 
round and round in a circle so that none of them should 
be hindmost. At last the devil was for clutching some 
one, but the young man pointed to his shadow which 
was behind. The devil in his hurry caught at it, and 
the young man never had a shadow from that day. 

Locheil hired a servant maid to attend to a set of 
valuable china dishes of which he was the possessor. 
Her post was onerous, and she had another waiting- 
maid under her. Her life was to be the forfeit of any 
of the dishes being broken. One night when ascending 
the stairs with the dishes on a tray, the under-servant 
leading the way with a light, she noticed that the sugar 
bowl was in two and began to weep. A gentleman, 
whom she had not till then observed, was walking back- 
wards and forwards on the stair-head. He asked her 

' The Mull doctor passed a house from which loud sounds of talking 
proceeded. He remarked that in that house were either twenty men or 
three women. 


why she wept, and she told. He asked what .she would 
give to have the bowl made whole as it was before ? 
Would she give herself? She thoughtlessly said she 
would give anything. The bargain was struck, 
and on drying her tears and looking up the maid 
found the bowl whole. She told all this to her 
master, and when the devil came that same night 
to claim her, Locheil gave his former teacher a 
hospitable reception. When it waxed late, the devil, 
afraid of the cock-crowing, was preparing to go 
away. Cameron coaxed him to remain till the inch 
still remaining of the candle on the table should burn 
down. Whenever he gave his consent Cameron blew 
out the candle and gave it to the servant, telling her 
her life depended on its safe custody. In this manner 
the devil was cheated by his own scholar. 

A drover bought a flock of goats from Macdonald 
of Keppoch, who himself accompanied the drove to 
Locheil-side. Here, in crossing a ford, the goats were 
taken away by the stream, and went past the drover as 
red stalks of fern {nan cuiseagun ruadha rainick), all 
except one dun hornless goat {gobhar nihaol odhar). 
The drover returned in search of Macdonalld and 
found him lying on the heather, seemingly asleep. He 
pulled his hand to awaken him, but the hand came 
away with him. In the end, however, the hand was 
put right, and the goats were restored to the astonished 


Another time Keppoch and his dairy-maid had a 
trial of skill in sorcery. While she was milking a cow 
in the cattle-fold, Macdonald, who was looking on, by 
his charms prevented the cow from yielding her milk. 
The dairy-maid removed to the other side of the cow 
and defeated his conjurations. He then removed the 
hoop on the milk-pail. This also she counteracted. 

Macdonald is said to have put a stop in his own 
country to the women winding black thread at night, 
but how or why does not appear. 

The mighty magician, Michael Scott, had a narrow 
escape from becoming the prey of the arch-fiend. On 
his death-bed he told his friends to place his body on 
a hillock. Three ravens and three doves would be seen 
flying towards it ; if the ravens were first the body was 
to be burned, but if the doves were first it was to 
receive Christian burial. The ravens were foremost, but 
in their hurry flew beyond their mark. So the devil, 
who had long been preparing a bed for Michael, was 



Superstition, in assigning to the devil a bodily 
shape and presence, endeavoured to make him horrible, 
and instead made him ridiculous. For this no doubt 
the monkish ceremonies of the middle ages are, as is 
commonly alleged, much to blame. The fiend was 
introduced into shows and dramatic representations 
with horns, tail, and the hoof of one of the lower 
animals ; the representation was seized upon by the 
popular fancy, and exaggerated till it became a carica- 
ture. The human mind takes pleasure in mixing the 
ludicrous with the terrible, and in seeing that of which 
it is afraid made contemptible. There is, as is well 
known, but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous, 
and, in being reduced to a bug-bear, the impersonation 
of evil has only come under the operation of a common 
law. One bad effect to be traced to the travesty is, 
that men's attention is diverted from the power of 
evil as the spirit that now worketh strife, lying. 


dishonesty, and the countless forms of vice, and the 
foul fiend is become a sort of goblin, to frighten 
children and lonely travellers. 

In Gaelic the exaggeration is not carried to the 
same lengths as in English. There is nothing said 
about the fiend's having horns or tail. He has made 
his appearance in shape of a he-goat, but his horns 
have not attracted so much attention, or inspired such 
terror, as his voice, which bears a horrible resemblance 
to the bleating of a goat. A native of the Island of 
Coll is said to have got a good view of him in a hollow, 
and was positive that he was crop-eared {corc- 
chluasacfi)} He has often a chain clanking after 
him. In Celtic, as in German superstition, he has 
usually a horse's hoof, but also sometimes a pi^s foot. 
This latter peculiarity, which evidently had its origin in 
the incident of the Gadarean swine, and in the pig 
being unclean under the ceremonial law, explains the 
cloven hoof always ascribed to him in English popular 
tales. In Scripture, the goat, as pointed out by Sir 
Thomas More, formed the sin offering, and is an 
emblem of bad men. The reason why a horse's hoof 
has been assigned to him is not so apparent. In the 
Book of Job, Satan is described as " going to and fro 
in the earth" ; and the red horses, speckled and white, 
which the prophet Zechariah (i. 8) saw among the 

'This was Nial na Buaile, who lived in a house alone several miles from 
any other house. The hollow is called Sloc-an-tciilisg. 


myrtle trees, were explained to him to be those whom 

" the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the 

earth." The similarity of description may be casual, 

but it is on grounds, equally incidental and slight, that 

many of the inferences of superstition are based. 

In addition to his Scripture names, the arch-fiend is 

known in Gaelic by the following titles : 

The worthless one {am fear naqh fhiacK). 

The one whom I will not mention (am fear nach abair mi). 

Yon one {am fear ud). 

The one big one {an aonfhear mor). 

The one from the abyss {an t-aibhisteir') from aibheis, an abyss, a 

The mean mischievous one {an Rosad). 
The big sorrow {an dblas mbr). 
The son of cursing {Mac-mollachd). 
The big grizzled one {an Riabhach tnor). 
The bad one {an donas). 
The bad spirit {ain-spiorad, droch-spiorad). 
Black Donald {Dbinhnull Du). 

In the North Highlands he is also known as Bidein, 

Dithean, Bradaidh. It is said that Connan was a name 

given to him, and that aisling connain, a libidinous 

dream, means literally ' a devil's dream.' The name 

must have been very local. There is a fable about 

Connan and his twelve sons pulling a plant in the peat 

moss, in which the name denoted the wren, and there 

was a St. Connan, whose memory is preserved in 

Cill-Chonnain, a burying-ground in Rannoch, and 

Feill-Connain, the autumn market at Dalmally in 



The occasions on which the devil has appeared in a 
bodily shape, have been at meetings of witches ; at 
card-playing, which is the reading of his books ; when 
he comes to claim his prey ; and when summoned by 
masons or magicians. He is apt to appear to persons 
ready to abandon their integrity, and to haunt premises 
which are soon to be the scene of signal calamities. He 
sometimes comes in unaccountable shapes and in lonely 
places for no conceivable purpose but to frighten people. 

The following tales will illustrate the -character of 
his appearances and the notions popularly entertained 
regarding him. 


A party of young people were playing cards ; a 
stranger joined them and took a hand. A card fell 
below the table, and the youth, who stooped to lift it, 
observed the stranger to have a horse's hoof The devil, 
on being thus detected, went up the chimney in smoke. 

This story is universal over the Highlands. Cards 
are notoriously known as the devil's books. When 
boys play them, the fiend has been known to come 
down the chimney feet foremost, the horse's or pig's 
foot appearing first. When going away, he disappears 
in smoke, and neighs horribly in the chimney. 

This celebrated book contained charms for the cure 
of cattle, and was so powerful that its owner had to 


place an iron hoop about his head every time he opened 
it. All accounts agree that it was got from the devil, 
but they differ as to how this was done. Very likely 
the book was a treatise on the treatment and diseases 
of cattle, and the origin of the stories of its magic virtue 
lay in the fact that the Stewarts, who owned it, had a 
magnificent fold of Highland cattle. 

The first, who got the book, rode an entire horse (an 
animal that no evil power can touch) to a meeting of 
witches. The devil wrote in a red book the names of 
the assembled company. The man, instead of letting 
the devil write his name, asked to be allowed to do so 
himself On getting the book for that purpose he 
made off with it. 

By another account (and the person from whom it 
was heard was positive as to its being the only correct 
account) it was got by a young lad under the following 
circumstances. The youth was apprenticed to the 
miller at Bearachan on Lochawe-side. His master was 
unkind, and made him work more than he was fit for. 
One night he was up late finishing a piece of work. 
About midnight a gentleman, whom he did not recog- 
nize, entered the mill and accosted him kindly. Turn- 
ing the conversation that ensued on the harsh conduct 
of the miller, the stranger promised to better the un- 
happy prentice's condition if they met at the Crooked 
Pool {Cama-linn) in the Middle Mountain i^Monadh 
Meadhonach) on a certain night. An assignation to 


that effect was made, but after the strange gentleman 
went away the lad got frightened, and next day told 
about the visitor he had. A conclave of sixteen 
ministers was called, and the matter was deliberated 
upon. As the youth had given his promise it was 
deemed necessary he should keep it, but he was advised 
to take a wand with him and at the place appointed 
trace a circle with it round himself, out of which he was 
not to move whatever temptation or terrors the stranger 
might bring to bear upon him. A committee of the 
clergy went to watch on a neighbouring eminence the 
result of the interview. The strange gentleman came 
at the appointed hour, and before giving the money 
promised, civilly asked the lad to write his name in a 
book. For this purpose the book was not handed but 
thrown to the youth, and he, on getting it into his 
possession, refused to give it up again. The strange 
gentleman now showed himself in his true colours. 
Finding remonstrances and coaxing of no avail to get 
the book or the lad out of the circle he got wild, and 
tried the effects of terror. First he became a grizzled 
greyhound {inial-chu riabhach), and came wildly dash- 
ing against the circle ; then a roarjng bull ; then a flock 
of crows {sgaoth rbcais) sweeping above the youth, so 
near that the wind caused by their wings would have 
carried him out of the circle if he had not clung to the 
heather. When cock-crowing time came the devil 
abandoned his attempts and disappeared. The book 


became the Red Book of Appin, and was last in 
possession of the Stewarts of Invernahyle {Inbher-na 


A native of the neighbourhood of Oban, on his way- 
home from Loch Awe-side, after crossing the hills and 
coming in above Kilmore, was joined by three strangers. 
He spoke to them, but received no answer. At a small 
public-house on the roadside he asked them in for a 
refreshment. They then told him they had business to 
attend to, and that after entering the house he was not 
on any account to come out or attempt to go home 
that night. On parting, the strangers turned off the 
high road by a private road leading to a neighbouring 
gentleman's house. The night proved unusually stormy, 
and the man did not move from the inn till morning. 
He then heard that the gentleman, towards whose house 
the three mysterious strangers had gone, had died the 
previous evening just about the time they would have 
arrived there. No person in the house or neighbour- 
hood saw anything of them. 

It has been already mentioned that the devil, or 
his emissaries, in the shape of three ravens, waited to 
catch the soul of Michael Scott as soon as it left the 
body. A freebooter of former days, who made a 
house underground for his wife in Loch Con, in Lower 
Rannoch {Bun Raineach), that he and his men might 
swear he had no wife above ground, and then married 


another, was at his death carried away by twelve 


Those who had the courage to perform the awful 
taghairm} called up the devil to grant any worldly wish 
they might prefer ; the disciples of the black art made 
him their obedient servant. Michael Scott, whose 
reputation as a magician is as great in the Highlands 
as in the Lowlands, made him his slave. He could 
call him up at any time. 

In Michael's time the people of Scotland were much 
confused as to the day on which Shrovetide was to be 
kept. One year it was early and another it was late, 
and they had to send every year to Rome to ascertain 
the time {dK fhaotainn fios na h-Inid'). It was deter- 
mined to send Michael Scott to get " word without a 
second telling " {fios gun ath-fhios). Michael called up 
the devil, converted him into a black ambling horse 
{falaire dhu), and rode away on the journey. The 
devil was reluctant to go on such an expedition, and 
was tired by the long distance. He asked Michael 
what the women in Scotland said when they put their 
children to sleep or ' raked ' the fire {smdladh an teini) 
for the night. He wanted the other to mention the 
name of the Deity, when the charm that made himself 
an unwilling horse would be broken. Michael told him 

' See page 304. 


to "ride on — "Ride you before you, you worthless 
wretch (inarcaich thusa, bhiasd, romhad), and never 
mind what the women said." They went at such a 
height that there was snow on Michael's hat when he 
disturbed the Pope in the early morning. In the hurry 
the Pope came in with a lady's slipper on his left foot. 
" You rode high last night, Michael," said the Pope. 
Michael's reply called attention to the Pope's left foot. 
" Conceal my secret and I will conceal yours," ^ said 
the Pope, and to avoid the chance of being again 
caught in a similar intrigue he gave Michael " the 
knowledge of Shrovetide," viz., that it is always " the 
first Tuesday of the spring light," i.e., of the new moon 
in spring. 

In Skye this adventure is ascribed to ' Parson Sir 
Andro of Ruig ' in that island. He is said to have 
started on his terrible journey from the top of the 
Storr Rock, a" scene the wildness of which is singularly 
appropriate to the legend. The Storr is a hill upwards 
of 2000 feet high, and on its eastern side, from which 
the parson must have set out for Rome, is precipitous, 
as if the hill were half eaten away, and the weird 
appearance of the scene is much increased by the 
isolated and lofty pillars from which the hill derives its 
name,^ standing in front. Not unfrequently banks of 

l 'S ard mharcaich thu 'n raoir a Mhicheil. Seall air do chois chll. Ceil 
orm 's ceilidh mi ort. 

''■Fiacaill storach means a buck tooth. 


mist come rolling up against the face of the cliffs, 
concealing the lower grounds, and giving a person 
standing at the top of the precipices one of the most 
magnificent views it is possible to conceive. He seems 
to look down into bottomless space, and where the 
mist in its motions becomes thin and the ground 
appears dark through it, there is the appearance of a 
profounder depth, a more awful abyss. The scene 
gives a wildly poetical character to the legend of the 
redoubtable parson and his unearthly steed. 


A part of the parish of the Ross of Mull is known 
ecclesiastically as Kilviceuen {Cill-inhic-Eoghain, the 
burying-place of the son of Hugh). Its ancient church 
was of unhewn stone, and its last minister, previous 
to its being united to Kilfinichen, was named Kennedy, 
a native of Can tyre, an Episcopalian, in the reign of 
Charles H. Tradition records that he came to his 
death in the following manner. 

His parishioners, about the end of spring, were 
taking a new millstone from Port Bheathain on Squrra- 
side to the mill, by means of a pole run through its 
eye. The parson threw off his cassock, and assisted 
them. The cassock was left where it was thrown off. 
In the evening his wife sent a servant-maid for it. 
The maid found, lying on the cassock, a large black 


dog, which would not allow her to touch the garment. 
She came home without it, and refused to return. The 
wife herself and another servant then went, were bitten 
by the dog, and ultimately twelve persons, including 
the minister, died of hydrophobia. 

So shocking an event could not take place without 
superstition busying itself about it. On Beltane night 
shortly before the event, the minister's servant-man had 
gone early to bed, while it was yet day. There was 
"a large blazing fire of green osk" {beblach mhbr dhearg 
de glas daracK) on the floor of the room, and he closed 
and locked the door before going to bed. Through 
the night he heard a noise as of some one feeling for 
the lock and trying to open the door. He remained 
quiet, thinking the noise was made by young men, who 
came courting and had mistaken the door. Soon, 
however, the door opened, and a person whom he did 
not recognize entered. The stranger, without saying a 
word, went and stood at the fire. When he turned 
his back the servant observed that his feet were horse's 
feet {spbgun eick). In a short time the apparition went 
away, locking the door after it. The man rose and 
went to an old man in great estimation for his piety, 
who lived alone at Creag nan Con (the Dog Rock). 
The old man's hut was a poor one, its door being made 
of wicker work and of the form called sgiathalan. No 
remonstrances could induce him to stay another night 
in the minister's house, and it was arranged that he 


should sleep at the hut, and in the day time go to his 
work at the manse. He told the sight he had seen, 
and the good man inferred from the time of night at 
which the devil had been seen that evil was near the 
house. It was shortly after this that the dog went 
mad, and the frightened servant was the only one of 
the minister's household that escaped. 

THE GAiiCK CATASTROPHE {Mort Ghathaig). 

On the last night of last century^ a disastrous 
casualty, in which six persons lost their lives, occurred 
in the deer forest of Gai'ck in Badenoch. The wild 
tract of mountain land, to which the name is given, 
was not formally made into a deer forest till 1814, but 
its loneliness made it a favourite haunt of wild game at 
all times. There was not a house in the large extent 
of near thirty square miles beyond a hut for the shelter 
of hunters. Captain MacPherson of Ballychroan, an 
officer in the army, with some friends and gillies were 
passing the night of the 31st December, 1800, in this 
hut, when an avalanche, or whirlwind, or some unusual 
and destructive agency came upon them, and swept 
before it the building and all its inmates. When 
people came to look for the missing hunters they found 
the hut levelled to the ground, and its fragments 
scattered far and wide. The men's bodies were 

'"A nollaig itiu dheire de'n cheiid 
Cha chuir mi e'n aireamh na mias." 


scattered over distances of half a mile from the hut ; 
the barrels of their guns were twisted, and over all 
there was a deep covering of snow, with here and three 
a man's hand protruding through it. The whole 
Highlands rang with the catastrophe, and it is still to 
be heard of in the Hebrides as well as in the district in 
which it occurred. Popular superstition constructed 
upon it a wild tale of diabolical, agency. 

Captain MacPherson was popularly known as " The 
Black Officer of Ballychroan " {Ofhichier du Baile- 
chrodhain). He is accused of being a '' dark savage " 
man (dorcha doirbh), who had forsaken his wife and 
children, and had rooms below his house, whence the 
cries of people being tortured were heard by those 
who passed the neighbourhood at night. About the 
end of 1800 he was out among the Gaick hills with 
a party of hunters, and passed the night in the hut 
mentioned. Late at night strange noises were heard 
about the house, and the roof was like to be knocked 
in about the ears of the inmates. First came an un- 
earthly slashing sound, and then a noise as if the 
roof were being violently struck with a fishing rod. 
The dogs cowered in terror about the men's feet. 
The captain rose and went out, and one of his 
attendants overheard him speaking to something, or 
some one, that answered with the voice of a he-goat. 
This being reproached him with the fewness of the 
men he had brought with him, and the Black 


Officer promised to come next time with a greater 

Of the party who went on the next hunting ex- 
pedition not one returned aHve. The servant who 
said he had heard his master speaking to the devil 
refused positively to be one of the party, neither 
threats nor promises moved him, and others followed 
his example. Only one of the previous party, a 
Macfarlane from Rannoch, a good and pious man it 
is said, went. It was observed that this day the 
officer left his watch and keys at home, a thing he 
had never been known to do before. Macfarlane's 
body was not found on the same day with the rest. 
It was carried further from the hut than the searchers 
thought of looking, and a person who had found 
before the body of one lost among the hills, was got 
to look for his remains. There is a saying that if 
a person finds a body once he is more apt to find 
another. When the melancholy procession with the 
dead bodies was on the way from the forest, even 
the elements were not at peace, but indicated the 
agency that had been at work. The day became 
exceedingly boisterous with wind and rain, so much 
so, when the Black Officer's body was foremost, that 
the party was unable to move on, and the order had 
to be changed. 

Two songs at least were composed on the occasion. 
One, strong in its praises of Captain MacPherson, will 


be found in Duanaire, p. 1 3 ; the other, among other 
things, says of him — 

" The Black Officer of Ballychroan it was, 
He turned his back on wife and children ; 
Had he fallen in the wars in France, 
The loss was not so lamentable."' 


A shepherd in Benderloch saw a large bundle of 
ferns rolling down the hillside, and, in addition to the 
downward motion given by the incline, it seemed to 
have a motion of its own. It disappeared down a 
waterfall. Of course this was Black Donald ; what 
else could it be? 


A former tenant of the farm of Holm, in Skye, 
and his wife had gone to bed, leaving a large pot 
full of indigo dye on the floor. The pig came in 
and fell into the pot. The wife got up to see what 
the noise was, and on looking into the pot saw the 
green snout of a pig jerking out of the troubled 
water. She roared out that the devil was in the pot. 
Her husband shouted in return to put on the lid, 
and jumping in great excitement out of bed, he threw 

' ' ' Ofhichier du Bhaile-chrodhain a bh'ann, 
Thrfig e a bhean 's a chlann 
Nan do thuit e'n cath na Fraing, 
Cha bhiodh an call co farranach." 


his weight on the lid to keep it down till the devil 
was drowned. His wife was remarkable for always 
commending what her husband did, and kept repeat- 
ing, " Many a person you will confer a favour on this 
night, Murdoch " {Is iomadh duine d'an dean thusa 
feuin a nockd, a MhurchiadJt). At last the noise in 
the pot subsided, and Murdoch nearly called up the 
party he had sought to drown on finding it was his 
own pig he had been so zealously destroying. 

It is a saying that the only trade that the devil 
has been unable to learn is that of tailoring. The 
reason is that when he went to try, every tailor left 
the room, and having no one to instruct him, he 
omitted to put a knot on the thread he began to 
sew with. In consequence the thread always came 
away with him, and he gave up the trade in despair. 
It is presumed that he wanted to learn the trade to 
make clothes for himself, as no one would undertake 
the making of them. 



The awful ceremony to which this name was given 

was also known among old men as " giving his supper 

to the devil." It consisted in roasting cats alive on 

spits till the arch-fiend himself appeared in bodily shape. 


He was compelled then to grant whatever wish the 
persons who had the courage to perform the ceremony- 
preferred, or, if that was the object of the magic rite, to 
explain and answer whatever question was put to him. 

Tradition in the West Highlands makes mention of 
three instances of its performance, and it is a sort of 
tribute to the fearless character of the actors that such 
a rite should be ascribed to them. It was performed 
by Allan the Cattle-lifter (Ailein nan creacK)^ at Dail- 
a-chait (the Cats' Field), as it has since been called, in 
Lochaber, and by Dun Lachlan {Lachunn odhar) in the 
big barn at Pennygown {sabhal mbr Peigkinn-a-gkobkann), 
in Mull. The details of these two ceremonies are so 
exactly the same that there is reason to think they 
must both be versions of an older legend. Nothing 
appears to create a suspicion that the one account was 
borrowed from the other. The third instance of its 
performance was by some of the " children of Quithen " 
[Clann 'ic Cuitken), a small sept in Skye, now absorbed, 
as so many minor septs have been, into the great 
family of the Macdonalds. The scene was a natural 
cavity called the " Make-believe Cave " {an Eaglais 
Bhreige), on East Side, Skye. There is the appearance 
of an altar beside this church, and the locality accords well 
with the alleged rite. The following is the Mull legend. 

^ Allan was a native of Lochaber, the most notorious district in the High- 
lands for cattle-lifters, and derived his name from having lifted a creach 
' ' for every year of his life, and one for every quarter he was in his mother's 
womb.'' He died at the age of 34. 



Lachlan Oiir and a companion, Allan, the son of 
Hector {Ailein Mac Eachuinn) — some say he had two 
companions — shut themselves up in the barn at Penny- 
gown, on the Sound of Mull, and putting cats on spits 
roasted them alive at a blazing fire. By-and-bye other 
cats came in and joined in the horrible howling of those 
being roasted, till at last the beams {sparrun an tighe) 
were crowded with cats, and a concert of caterwauling 
filled the house. The infernal noise almost daunted 
Lachlan Oar, especially when the biggest of the cats 
said, " When my brother the Ear of Melting comes — " 
Allan the son of Hector did not allow the sentence to 
be finished. " Away cat," he cried, and then added to 
his companion, in an expression which has become 
proverbial in the Highlands when telling a person to 
attend to the work he has in hand, and never mind 
what discouragements or temptations may come in his 
way, " Whatever you see or hear, keep the cat turning" 
{De sain bith a cht no chluinneas tu, cum an cat niun 
cuairi). Dun Lachlan, recovering courage, said, " I will 
wait for him yet, and his son too." At last the Ear of 
Melting came among the other cats on the beams, and 
said, while all the other cats kept silence, " Dun Lachlan, 
son of Donald, son of Neil, that is bad treatment of a 
cat " {Lachuinn uidhir 'ic Dhb'uill ic Neill, 's olc an 
caramh cait sin). Allan to this called out as before, 
" Whatever you see or hear, keep the cat turning," and 
the fearful rite was proceeded with. At last the Ear 


of Melting sprang to the floor and said, " Whomsoever 
the Ear of Melting makes water upon will not see the 
face of the Trinity" {Ge b'e co air a niidn Cluas a 
Leoghaidh cha 'n fhaic e gmcis na Trianaid). " The 
cross of the sword in your head, wretch ; your water is 
sweat " {Crois a chlaidheamh a'd cheann, a bhiasd ; 's 
tu mim fallals), answered Dun Lachlan, and he struck 
the cat on the head with the hilt of his two-handed 
sword. Immediately the devil, under the potent spell, 
assumed his proper shape, and asked his wild sum- 
moners what they wanted with him ? One asked 
Conach 'us clann (" Prosperity and children "), and Dun 
Lachlan asked " Property and prosperity, and a long 
life to enjoy it " ( Cuid his conach, 'us saoghal fada na 
cheann). The devil rushed out through the door crying, 
" Prosperity ! Prosperity ! Prosperity ! " {^Conach ! 
Conach ! Conach f) 

The two men obtained their desires, but were 
obliged (some say) to repeat the taghairm every year 
to keep the devil to the mark. 

When Dun Lachlan was on his deathbed his nephew 
came to see him, and in the hope of frightening the old 
fellow into repentance, went through a stream near the 
house and came in with his shoes full of water. " My 
sister's son," said Lachlan, " why is there water in your 
shoe ? " (a mhic mo pheathar, d arson tha began a' a 
bhrolg?) The nephew then told that the two com- 
panions who had been along with Lachlan in the 


performance of the taghairm, and who were both by this 
time long dead, had met him near the house, and to 
escape from them he had several times to cross the 
running stream ; that they told him their position was 
now in the bad place, and that they were waiting for 
his uncle, who, if he did not repent, would have to go 
along with them. The old man, on hearing this 
melancholy message, said, " If I and my two com- 
panions were there, and we had three short swords that 
would neither bend nor break, there is not a devil in the 
place but we would make a prisoner of "^ After this the 
nephew gave up all hopes of leading him to repentance. 
A native of the island of Coll and his wife came to 
see him. Lachlan asked them what brought them ? 
" To ask," said the Coll man, " a yoke of horses you 
yourself got from the devil " {dh ' iarraidh seirreach each 
fhuair thu fhein on douus). Lachlan refused this and 
sent the man away, but he sent a person to overhear 
what remarks the man and his wife might make after 
leaving. The wife said, " What a wild eye the man 
had? " {Nach b' fhiadhaich an t-snil bh'aig an duin 'ud?) 
Her husband replied, " Do you suppose it would be an 
eye of softness and not a soldier's eye, as should be ? " 
{Saoil am bi suil an t-slauchdain, ach siiil an t-saighdeir 
mar bu choir?) On this being reported to Lachlan, he 
called the Coll man back and gave him what he wanted. 

'Nambithinn fh'm 's mo dha chompanach ann, 's trigroilleineanagainn nach 
tubadh's nach briseadh, cha bhiodh deamhan a stigh nach cuireamaidan IMmh. 


Martin, in his Description of the Western Islands, 
p. 1 10, quoted by Scott {Lady of the Lake, note 2 t), 
after describing a mode of Taghairm by taking a man 
by the feet and arms to a boundary stream and 
bumping him against the bank till little creatures 
came from the sea to answer the question of which 
the solution was sought, says : — " I had an account 
from the most intelligent and judicious men in the 
Isle of Skie, that about sixty-two years ago the oracle 
was thus consulted only once, and that was in the 
parish of Kilmartin, on the east side, by a wicked 
and mischievous set of people, who are now extin- 
guished, both root and branch." The Taghairm here 
referred to seems to be that above-mentioned as 
having been performed by the M'Quithens in the 
Make-believe or False Cave on East Side, Skye. The 
race have not borne a good reputation, if any value is 
to be attached to a rhyme concerning them and 
other minor septs in Skye : — 

"The M'Cuthan, expert in lies. 
The M'Quithens, expert in base flattery, 
The M'Vannins, expert as thieves. 
Though no bigger than a dagger handle." ^ 

1 There is a venom and an emphasis in the original impossible to con- 
vey in a, translation. 

" Clann 'ic Cuthain chuir nam briag, 
Clann 'ic Cuithein chur an t-sodail, 
Clann 'ic Mhannain chuir na braide 
Ged nach b'fhaid aid na cas biodaig. " 


Another method of Taghairm, described by Martin, 
was by wrapping a person in a cow-hide, all but his 
head, and leaving him all night in a remote and 
lonely spot. Before morning his " invisible friends " 
gave him a proper answer to the question in hand, 
or, as Scott explains it, " whatever was impressed upon 
him by his exalted imagination, passed for the in- 
spiration of the disembodied spirits who haunt the 
desolate recesses." This method of divination cannot 
have been common ; at least the writer has been able 
to find no trace of it. 

As a third mode of Taghairm, Martin briefly de- 
scribes that above detailed, viz., the roasting of a live 
cat on a spit till at last a verj'^ large cat, attended 
by a number of lesser cats, comes and answers the 
question put to him. 

Both Martin and Scott fall into the error of suppos- 
ing that the object of the Taghairm was solely 
divination, to ascertain the future, the issue of battles, 
the fate of families, etc. The mode by roasting live 
cats was too fearful a ceremony to be resorted to 
except for adequate reasons, and the obtaining of 
worldly prosperity, which was the object of the Mull 
Taghairm, is a more likely reason than curiosity or 
anxiety as to a future event. 

The naming of the word Taghairm is not at first 
sight obvious. There is no doubt about the last 
.syllable being gairm, a call. Ta is probably the same 


root that appears in so many words, as tannasg, 
taibhse, etc., denoting spectres, spirits, wraiths, etc., and 
Taghairm means nothing else than the ' spirit-call,' in 
fact, " the calling of spirits from the vasty deep." 


This was a rhyme or incantation by which the 
person possessing the knowledge of it could shut the 
mouths of dogs and open locks. It was reckoned a 
\rery useful gift for young men who went a-wooing. 
Archibald, son of Murdoch, or, as he was also popu- 
larly known, Archibald the Light-headed {Gileasbuig 
Mhurchaidh, G. Eutront), who was about twenty years 
ago a well-known character in Skye and its neigh- 
bourhood, knew the charm, but when he repeated it 
he spoke so fast that no one was able to learn it 
from him, and as to his teaching of it to any one, 
that was out of the question. Poor Archibald was 
mad, and when roused was furiously so. He went 
about the country attending markets and wherever 
there was a gathering of people, and found every- 
where open quarters throughout that hospitable island. 
Indeed, it was not wise to contradict him. He had 
a keen and ready wit, as numerous sayings ascribed 
to him testify, and composed several songs of consider- 
able merit The fear which dogs had of him, and 
which made them crouch into corners on seeing him, 
was commonly ascribed to his having the Glas Ghairm, 


but no doubt was owing to the latent madness which 
his eyes betrayed, and of which dogs have an in- 
stinctive and quicker perception than men. On their 
offering the slightest sign of hostility, Archibald 
would knock out their brains without as much as 
looking at their masters. 

The Glas Ghainn was supposed to be in some way 
connected with the safety of Israel on the night before 
the Exodus, " against any of the children of Israel 
shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or 
beast " (Ex. xi. 7). 


( The figures refer to the page. ) 

Aibtieid (explained), 103 

Alasdair Challum, tale of, 94 

Alfs, II 

Annat, 29 

Apollo, 193 

Arabian Nights' Entertainment, 132 

Arasaig, 109, ff. 

Ardnamurchan, 52, 55, 122, note ; 

183, 226 
Arrows (fairy), 26, 154 
Association-craft (assistance of the 

Folk), 98, 161 
Augury, 250-257 

omens, 251, 256, 257 

outset of a journey, 253 

unlucky animals, 254 

unlucky to look back, 255 

Bagpipes, 18 
Bait-stone, 255, note 
Baking, 232, 233 
Banshee, 8, 22, 40, 44, 45, 51, 85, 

107, 108, n8, 141 
Barra, 59, 264 

Bean-nighe (washing-woman), 42,43 
Beanshith, 8, 42, 102-105, 152, 157, 


Beetles, 227 

Beinn Feall, 96 

Beltane (first night of summer), 18, 

151, 234, 249 
Ben Lawers, 275 
Ben Lomond fairies, 60 
Ben-y-Ghloe, 29, 94 ; the wife of, 

125, f: 
Bernicle Goose, 221 
Biasd na Grogaig, 217 
Bible (a protection against fairies), 

49. 168 
Black Art, 285-288 

Dog (see Macphie of Colonsay) 

Donald, tale of, 68, 69 

William the Piper, 65 
Blue Men, 199, f. 
Boat Language, 239 
Breadalbane, 274 
Bridge of Awe, tale from, 88, 89 
Brownie, 157, 186-193, .'95. '96. 

Cailleach, 243, 244 
Caithness, 220 
Galium, tale, 103 
Galium Clark, tale, 60, 61 
"Calum Clever," tale, 72 



Cameron of Locheil, 122, note; 286, 

Campbells, 177, 187, 227 
Campbell's West Highland Tales, 

29, note; 59, 75,116, 132, 190, 


Leabhar na Feinne, 126, note 
Cantyie, 117, 187 

Carleton's Tales and Stories, 48, note 
Carlin of the Spotted Hill, 122, 123 
Carlin Wife, 28 
Cats (fairy), 32 
"Cauld Lad of Hilton," 188 
Cere-doth, 241 
Chailleach, 243 
Changelings, 38, 39, 90-92 
Childbed (customs), 36, 37, 80 
Children (deformities attributed to 

fairies), 39, 85 
Clandonald, 117 
Colkitto, 116 
Coll, 69, 95, 96, 166, 208 
Colonsay, no, ff. 
Connan, 291 

Cows (and fairies), 134, 135, 137 
Craignish, 52, 57 
Cremona, 139 

Deer, 109, 126, 132, ff. 
Deiseal (right-hand turn), 35, 229, f. ; 

Devil, the, 289-312 
Divination, 262-267 
Dobhar (water), 217 
Dogs (fairy), 30, 31, 109, 141, 144 

(ordinary), 144-146, 191 
Donald, son of John, 122, note 

son of Patrick, 123, 124, 132 
Dowart, 97 
Dreams, 268 

Druid, 193, 194 

Duergar, 11 

Duine sith (man of peace), 7i I0'> 

Dundeacainn, 94 
Dun Keneth, 272 
Dunniquoich, 94 
Du-sith (Black Elf) lOl, note 

Edda, 220 

Eddy wind, 24, 25 

Eels, 221 

Elfin {see Fairies), and i, note 

Queen, 45 
EUe Woman (see Bean shith) 
Elves (see Fairies) 
Emmet, 228 
Euphemisms, 237 
Ewen, tale of, 73 

Fagail (parting gift), 44, 154 

assistance from, 96-100 

belief in, i, 2 

characteristics, 50, 51 

churning, 137, 138 

coming to houses, 73-76 

defects, 15 

dresses, 14, 15 

dwellings, 11-14, note; 93-96 

fallen angels, 199 

festivities, 16, 18 

food, 21 

gifts, 22, 23, 153, 154 

lifting by, 69-72 

loan to, 58 

Lowland, 76-78 

metamorphosis, 109, 126, note 
132. '33 




music, 138, 139 

names given to, 3-9 

occupations, 15, 16, 161 

Pennygown, 59 

protection against, 46, 49 

raids, 92, 93 

seen when, 21 

size of, 9, II 

stealing women and children, 78, 

thefts by, 32, if. 
Fallaid cake, 48, 232, 233 
Fallen angels, 199, 283 
Familiar spirit, 8, 41 
Faroe Islands, 191 
Ferintosh, 62 

Finlay's Sandbank, tale of, 57, ff. 
Flounder, 223 

Folk, see fairies' names and, 1 1 
Funerals, customs at, 241, f. 

Gael, 139 

Gaich catastrophe, 300, ff. 
Gigelorum, 220 
Glaisein, 190 
Glaisrig [see Glaistig) 
Glaistig, 44, 45, 146, note ; 155, ff.; 
184, 190, 191 
at Ardnadrochit, 175 
at Baugh, 176 
in Coll, 166 
in Craignish, 173 
at Dunolly, 166 

Dunstaffnage C., 164 
Garlios, 173, f. 
Glenduror, 162 
Glenorchy, 171 
Hianish, 177 
Inverawe House, 164 


at lona, 179 

at Mearnig C., 166 

in Mull, 179, 180, 183 

at Sleat, 165 

at Sron-Charmaig, 162, i. 

in Strathglass, 167 

at Strontian, 177, f. 

at Ulva, 178 
Glas Ghairm, 311 
Glencoe, 265 
Graham's Highlands of Perthshire, 

7. 198 
Greenock, 6 
Greogach (Gruagach) 
Gruagach, 156, 157, 165, 184, ff.; 193 

Hallowe'en, 61 
Hallowmass, 18, 260 
Hand mills (see Querns) 
" Happy Hog" 
Harris (district), 62, 136, 201, 222 

Woman of, 66, f. 
Harvest Maiden, 20 
Hebrides, 6, 149, 199, 269 

North, 14, 126, 199 
Herring, 222 

Highland Society s Dictionary, 157 
Hinzelman, 191 
Hobgoblin, 191 
Horses, 30, 146-149 


Imprecations, 277-281 
Inveraray Castle, 54 
Inverness-shire, 197 
lona, 62, 93, 107 
Ireland, 127 

King of, 132, 133, 184 
Iron (and fairies), 152, f. 



Islay, tales from, 86, 87, 100, 112, 

117, 119 
Isle of Man, 190 

Johnson, Dr., 186 
Jura, 112, 114, 121 

Keightley's Fairy Myth, 188, 190 
Kelpie, the, 215 
Kennavana, haunted by fairies, 78, 

138, 141 
Kennedy, tale of, 298, f. 
King Otter (water-dog), 216 
Knap {see M'Millan) 
Kobold, 191 

Labrador Indians, 90 

Lachlan Oar, a tale of iaghairm, 

306, ff. 
Lady of Lawers, her prophecies, 

274, f. 
Lammas day, 234, 249 
Lamprey, 219 
Lar Familiaris, 191 
Lares, 191 
Largs, 76, 78 
Lavallan, 220 
Leannan sith (fairy sweetheart), 8, 

41. 45. 195 
Leg cake, 234 
Leyden, 117, 118 
Lobster, 223 
Lochaber, 28, 52, 56, 122, note ; 

123- 135 
Loch Gruinard, tale of battle of, 100 
Lorn, 123, 144, 162 
Luran Black, tale of, 52-57 


MacCallum, the hunter, 90 
MacCodrums of the seals, 284 
MacCrimmon, piper, 66, 138-141 
MacCuaric (Kennedy), tale of, 168, 

Macdonalds, 100 ■ 

of Keppoch, 286 
MacDuffies (Macphies), 116 
Mac-fir Arois, tale of, 205, ff. 
Mac-Ian Year (Mac Iain Ghiarr), 

tale of, 181, fif. 
Mackenzie of Brahan, 286 
M'Lear, tale of, 97, 98 

Sir Lachlan Moir, 100, lOl, 

Macleod (Clan), 269 
Macleod's Fairy Banner, 5 
Macleod of Macleod, 139 
Macleods of Raasa, 57 

of Skye, 5, 241 
M'Millan of Knap, tale of, 172 
MacNeill, Farquahar, 64 
MacNeills, 264 
Macphail (Macphie), 118 
MacPherson, Captain {see Gaich 

Macphie of Colonsay, 109-122, 

Magpie, 227 
Maistir, 36, 49 
Manadaireachid {sec Augury) 
Martin's Description of the Western 

/stands, 309 
Men of Peace {see Sithche) 
Mermaid, the, 201 

Leyden's ballad, 117, 118 
Merry Dancers {see Northern 

Moidart, 109 



Morvern, 72, So; 81, 98, 102, 103, 
122, note; 135, 151, 173, 242 

Mull, 15, 28, 42, 52, 59, 75, 80, 89, 
97,99, loi, 103, 105, 120, 126, 

133. 138, 14s. 152. 179. 180, 
183, 208, 241, 264, 306 
Murchard Mac Brian, 184 
Murdoch, the Short, 264, f. 

Names, 245 

New- Year day, 234, f. ; 260 
Niagruisar, 191 
Nial Scrob, 69, 70 
Nis, 191 
Nix, 190 
Norman, 274 

Northern Streamers {Merry Dancers) , 
199. f- 


Oatmeal, 150, ff. 

O'Cronicert's Fairy Wife, 127, 133 

Oisian, 44, 126, note 

Oscar, 44 

Ossian (see Oisian) 

Palmistry, 266 
Pearlwork, 49, 80, 241 
Pennant's Tour, 193, 220 
Pennygown fairies, 59 
Perthshire, 30, 44, 74, 196, 198 
Phynnodderee, 190 
Pixies II 

Pope, the, and Michael Scott, 297 
Portree, 29, 30, 75, 99, 137, 139, 

Premonitions, 258, ff. 
Prophecies, 269-276 

Protection against evil spirits, 247, 
against fairies, 46-49 

Querns (hand mills), 35, note, 149, 


Raasay Water-Horse, 209 
Rannoch, 71 
Rats, 225 
Red Book of B alloc h (see Lady of 

Red Book of Appin, 292-295 
Red-deer, 27, ff. 
Red Donald, 7 1 
Right-Hand-Turn (see Deiseal) 
Road name, 245 

Salt, 236 
Schiehallion, 94 
Scott, Sir Walter, 198 

Michael, 285, 288, 295, 296 
Seals, 283 
Sea-serpent, 220 
Serpents, 223, f. 
Shetland Isles, 188^ 283 
Shien-sloy, 94 

Shoulder-blade Reading, 263-266 
Shrovetide, 297 
Siochaire, 7 
Sireach, 7 
Sith (peace), i, 3, 4> 5, 6, 7. 8, 9, 

28, 29, 40, 41, 126 
Sithbheire, 7 
Sithche, 7, 40, 153 
Sithchear, 7, 49 
Siihein (fairies' dwelling) 11, 14, 

note ; 94 
Skip Jack, 228 



Skye, 29, 30, 43, 52, 56, 67, 69, 75, 
91, 96, 99, 126, 136, 137, 156, 
165, 182, 184, 199, 201, 217, 

244, 297, 303- 305 
Speke, Captain, 254 
Spells, 281-285 
St. Bridget's Day, 225 
St. Columba, 223 
St. Elmo's light, 6 
St. Fillan, 196 
St. John's wort, 49, 103 
Stirling, the Carse, 285 
Suicides, 242 
Superstitions about animals, 219-228 

miscellaneous, 229-249 
Sutherlandshire, 66 

Taghairm ("spirit call"), 304-312 
Tales of the West Highlands {see 

TapuU House, 75 
Tea, divination by, 266 
Theft, 236 
Thomas of Ercildoune (the Rhymer), 

45, 269-272 
Thunder, 235 

Tiree, 6, 30, 42, 52, 55, 57, 69, 71, 
76, 78, 83, 85, 87, 91, 93. loi, 
105, 108, 109, 134, 135, 139, 
141, 142, 150, 165, 189, 199, 
239, 240. 241, 266 
Tobermory, 63, 183 
Toradh (benefit), 21, 32, 33, 48 
Trial (Deuchainn, fridh), 259, 261 
Trolls, II 
"Trouble-the House" (Eachrais 

iirlair), 282 
Tutelary beings, 155-194 

origin of the belief in, 192, 193 
Uist, 136, 137, note 

North, 284 
Unimore, 190 
Urisk, the, 195-199, 215 
of Ben Loy, 196 

Yellow-Waterfall, 197 
Washing-woman [see Bean-nighe) 
Water-Bull, 216 
Water-Dog {see King Otter) 
Water-Horse, 203-215 
at Loch Cuaich, 210 
at Tiree, 211, 214 
Whale, 222